Give Now  »

Noon Edition

What Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Most people know eating junk food isn't healthy. But what about plastic?

Plastic Issues

It appears that plastic is what many fish have been eating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This has scientists concerned about plastic's long term effects on the fish and the environment.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn't a visible island of trash that can be mapped. Instead, it's a plastic soup spread across thousands of miles of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The gyre is a giant swirling vortex of water located between the U.S. and Japan. Once trash enters the loop, it stays there.

Much of the plastic is strewn like confetti through the water column and can be found not only on the surface, but hundreds of feet below.

Gathering The Data

To find out if fish are eating the plastic, scientists collected fish, water samples, and measured the amount of plastic pollution in numerous locations to depths of thousands of feet.

They captured over one hundred forty fish of twenty seven species from mid water depths and examined their stomach contents to see what the fish had eaten.

About nine percent of fishes had plastic in their stomachs. This might not sound like much, but scientists estimate that at that rate, fish in intermediate depths eat anywhere from twelve to twenty four thousand tons of plastic a year.

What Is The Impact?

Now that scientists know how much plastic fish are eating, they have the difficult task of finding out how plastic is affecting both the fish and the environment.

Is the plastic just passing through the fish, are chemicals being absorbed, or is it killing fish? Much more work is needed to determine the impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on both the fish and us.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science