Debris from the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is displayed on SEAPLEX's research ship New Horizon
in summer 2009.
Perhaps 10 percent of the 260 million tons of plastic produced worldwide each year ends up in the sea--much of it in the swirling currents of the North Pacific Gyre and other ocean vortices.
During the New Horizon'
s 1,700-mile (2,700-kilometer) cruise through the garbage patch, scientists dragged nets through the ocean a hundred times. Each troll yielded plastic debris--a "pretty shocking" result, said Scripps biological oceanography doctoral student Miriam Goldstein.
"In the ocean it's pretty unusual to find exactly what you're looking for over and over and over again," added Goldstein, principal investigator on the expedition.
Photograph courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography