Garbage Patch Stretches Across Pacific Ocean

A rubbish dump found floating in the Pacific Ocean is estimated to be twice the size of the United States.

The vast expanse of debris, made up of plastic junk including footballs, kayaks, Lego blocks and carrier bags, is kept together by swirling underwater currents.

It stretches from 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Because the rubbish, which has been called a "plastic soup" and a "trash vortex", is translucent and lies just below the water's surface it cannot be seen in satellite photographs.

American oceanographer Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by chance in 1997 while taking a short cut home from a yacht race.

He said: "Every time I came on deck there was trash floating by. How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"

He warned that the rubbish could double in size over the next decade if consumers do not cut back on their use of plastics. More than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic rubbish.

Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have all been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds.

The rubbish can also be dangerous for humans, because tiny plastic pellets in the sea can attract man-made chemicals which then enter the food chain.

Research director Dr Marcus Eriksen said: "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple."

Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer compared the rubbish to a living entity. He said: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash."

Describing what happens when it reaches land, he said: "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic."

The dump is made up of two linked areas either side of Hawaii. About one fifth of the junk is thrown off ships or oil platforms, while the rest comes from the land.

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