Researchers are warning of a new blight on the ocean: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over thousands of square miles (kilometers) in a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
The floating garbage — hard to spot from the surface and spun together by a vortex of currents — was documented by two groups of scientists who trawled the sea between scenic Bermuda and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores islands.
“We found the great Atlantic garbage patch,” said Anna Cummins, who collected plastic samples on a sailing voyage in February.
The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible.
Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products.
The plastic bits, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals that are also circulating in the ocean, said Jacqueline Savitz, a marine scientist at Oceana, an ocean conservation group based in Washington.