Are we really “choking the ocean with plastic”? Tracing the creation of an eco-myth

By Larry Kummer, from the Fabius Maximus website

Summary: Last week Kip Hansen’s “An Ocean of Plastic” thoroughly debunked myths about the “great garbage patch”. But who created this story? Like many of the scary stories of our time, it came from the interaction of actual science with activist scientists and clickbait-seeking journalists. It is an example of how real problems become masked by myths, leaving us divided and unable to respond. To make this a self-contained post, it repeats some material covered by Hansen.


The first recorded sighting of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was by oceanographer Charles J. Moore (heir to oil wealth, now an environmental activist) when sailing home after a race in 1999. Here is how he describes it (from “Trashed”, Natural History, Nov 2003). Too bad he did not bring a camera to record it!

“Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.”

Much of this seems odd. There are patches of debris, but no such masses of plastic “as far as the eye can see”. There is much plastic, but most is barely visible to the eye — and lies under the surface.

Like all good stories, it grew over time. From “Choking the Oceans with Plastic” — his 2014 op-ed in the New York Times: “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.

Moore becomes somewhat more accurate when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, such as Suzanne Bohan in this 2011 article: “It’s not something you can walk on, or see from a satellite. We’ve always tried to dispel that fact,” Or in this quote of him from The Independent: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”


From the San Jose Mercury News, 3 August 2009.

It is as large as Texas. Or the continental US. Or twice that!

“Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) (about the size of Texas) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or, in some media reports, up to “twice the size of the continental United States”.”

Wikipedia entry about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

From a 2008 interview of Charles Moore  by NPR, “Garbage Mass Is Growing in the Pacific“: “If something isn’t done, he says, the island will increase in size by a factor of ten every two to three years — making in time something more akin to an actual, solid island.” He predicted that it would grow 20x – 30x from 2008 to now.

Journalists love these stories, printing lurid descriptions of the rapidly growing Texas-sized (or twice-Texas-sized) garbage patches (e.g., National Geographic, San Jose Mercury News, The Guardian, New York Times). Unfortunately scientists ruined the fun, as in this by NOAA:  “How Big Is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”? Science vs. Myth” (7 Feb 2013)…

“While everything may be bigger in Texas, some reports about the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ would lead you to believe that this marine mass of plastic is bigger than Texas — maybe twice as big as the Lone Star State, or even twice as big as the continental U.S. … For the record, no scientifically sound estimates exist for the size or mass of these garbage patches.”

That conclusion rests on a firm foundation of studies such as this in Science (2010), this in PNAS (July 2014; summary here), and this in Science (Feb 2015; ungated copy here). For more cold water on the fun see this summary of the research by Angelicque White (asst prof of oceanography at Oregon State).

That NOAA article says something else of interest about this myth, discussing articles by Carey Morishige of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program

“(1)  There is no “garbage patch,” a name which conjures images of a floating landfill in the middle of the ocean, with miles of bobbing plastic bottles and rogue yogurt cups. … While it’s true that these areas have a higher concentration of plastic than other parts of the ocean, much of the debris found in these areas are small bits of plastic (microplastics) that are suspended throughout the water column. A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates (or sits) on the surface.

“(2)  There are many “garbage patches,” and by that, we mean that trash congregates to various degrees in numerous parts of the Pacific and the rest of the ocean. These natural gathering points appear where rotating currents, winds, and other ocean features converge to accumulate marine debris, as well as plankton, seaweed, and other sea life.”

But we have photographs!


Activists helped propagate the story by providing photographs of the Garbage Patch, usually photos of coastal areas (not the deep ocean) — often after a storm or other event washed debris from shore. The above photo was taken in Wakuya after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. The photo at the top is explained in “Lies You’ve Been Told About the Pacific Garbage Patch” by Annalee Newitz at iO9, May 2012.

“You’ve probably heard of the ‘Pacific garbage patch,’ also called the ‘trash vortex.’ It’s a region of the North Pacific ocean where the northern jet stream and the southern trade winds, moving opposite directions, create a vast, gently circling region of water called the North Pacific Gyre — and at its center, there are tons of plastic garbage. You may even have seen this picture of the garbage patch, above — right? Wrong.

“That image, widely mislabeled as a shot of the Pacific garbage patch, is actually from Manila harbor. And it’s just one of many misconceptions the public has about what’s really happening to plastics in the ocean. We talked with Scripps Institution marine biologist Miriam Goldstein, who has just completed a study of how plastic is changing the ecosystem in the North Pacific Gyre, about myths and realities of the Pacific garbage patch.

“‘That picture of the guy in the canoe has been following me around my whole career! I think it’s an example of media telephone, where somebody wanted something dramatic to illustrate their story — and then through the magic of the internet, the picture got mislabeled. We have never seen anything like that picture. I’ve never seen it personally, and we’ve never seen it on satellite.’”


Scientists have debunked the exaggerated stories about the Great Garbage Patch, but more people see the myth than the corrections. Meanwhile science continues.

The large amount of plastic waste in the oceans was first reported by Edward J. Carpenter and K. L. Smith Jr. in “Plastics on the Sargasso Sea Surface” (Science, 17 March 1972): “Their occurrence was widespread. … Most of the pieces were hard, white cylindrical pellets, about 0.25 to 0.5 cm {0.01 – .02″} in diameter…”. That debris accumulated in specific areas of the Pacific was predicted in a paper by Robert Day et al at a 1989 NOAA conference.

Today research focuses on the effects of the large quantities of plastic — mostly very small pieces — on the ocean ecosystem, and on the effects of the chemicals produced by their breakdown. How bad is this? It is a frontier in ocean science, well worth attention.

We do know that overfishing and pollution are wrecking the ocean, creating one of our most serious ecological problems. We need to act soon. But the flood of exaggerations and lies about environmental problems — as in the example shown here — only further erode people’s already low confidence in our institutions. This makes it more difficult for us to see and respond to the many challenges we face.

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December 24, 2015 1:31 pm

Over fishing is the untreated malaise of our day. Climate Change is a tempest in a teapot in comparison.
With that cheery thought: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Reply to  Wayne Delbeke
December 24, 2015 1:41 pm

Agree on overfishing. A classic tragedy of the commons problem.

George Lawson
Reply to  ristvan
December 24, 2015 3:51 pm

I don’t see much plastic in then picture. It looks very much like a mass of floating timber with a few bits of plastic scattered on the top.

December 24, 2015 1:35 pm

This is a good post. It descibes how easy it is to lie and deceive with half truths in the instantaneous, visual, unedited, unfact checked internet era when any idiotnwith an agenda can assert anything is true. Amplified idiocy is still idiocy.
My ebook The Arts of Truth (even the title illustrates the arts of untruth, as the intro explains using the motto of Harvard University and its sttue of John Harvard as the first example) discerns several general categories of easy halftruth deceptions, and suggests some antidotes, using examples like classroom size, No Child Left Behind, the mpg of the Chevy Volt, eggs are bad, plus over a hundred others. Final major ‘wrap’ chapter is global warming, because so rich in illustrating all the main untruth themes. Spent a day with Prof. Lindzen just before he retired from MIT making sure that chapter would generally ring true. He is also to thank for the lengthly Svalbard footnote in the recognition chapter continental drift example discussing why Alfred Wegner’s incredibly evidenced papers and books could not convince geologists for almost 60 years.

Reply to  ristvan
December 24, 2015 2:39 pm

Since Rud Istvan didn’t do so, here is the link to get his book:

“This book is a primer on critical thinking. Without it, the Internet is only a misinformation highway. The dark arts of untruthfulness are ubiquitous in ‘official’ information. The general techniques used to distort or misrepresent truth are conceptually explored, illustrated by dozens of examples covering a wide range of subjects. Does classroom size reduction improve education? Can tight oil shale provide US petroleum independence? Are eggs unhealthy? Does the Chevy Volt really get 60mpg-e? Is global warming a hoax or a crisis? The many thought provoking examples are entertaining as well as enlightening.”

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 24, 2015 5:04 pm

Editor, TY. I did not spend years writing that book for financial gain. I spent the time, as you and your website and WUWT does, merely seeking truth. To each their own path. Mine has been long and winding.

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 24, 2015 5:34 pm

I do not believe and did not imply that you wrote for financial gain. I do believe that your book deserves wide exposure, hence I posted the link and summary.

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 25, 2015 1:00 pm

“Editor of Fabius Maximus”.. Thanks for the link to Rud Istvan’s book..
I’ve been relying on the Old Chinese sage ‘Anon’ who said:
” He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Avoid him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not, can be taught. Teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows, is asleep. Wake him
and He who knows and knows that he knows, is a prophet. Follow him!
I sometimes have trouble sorting which is which!
Merry Christmas
Mike M

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 28, 2015 8:18 am

Go give him a review on Amazon.

Reply to  ristvan
December 24, 2015 5:48 pm

It describes how easy it is to lie and deceive with half truths in the instantaneous, visual, unedited, unfact checked internet era when any idiot with an agenda can assert anything is true. Amplified idiocy is still idiocy.

Which is why we’re in a bit of trouble. The internet tends to make smart people smarter and stupid people stupider. Which of these two do we have more of again? Couple this with the “lie gets around the world before truth…” truism and the compliance of the meeja and we’ve got big problems.

Reply to  ristvan
December 25, 2015 4:14 am

There are many things that become “accepted wisdom” which would fall into this category too. Things like the need for “biodiversity”, the “ecosystem”, and so on and so forth.
Can anyone actually point me to any scientific evidence that we need biodiversity? If we kill off all the stygofauna for instance, would anyone even notice? What is the minimum level of biodiversity that humans require for survival?

Reply to  AP
December 25, 2015 7:15 am

“Can anyone actually point me to any scientific evidence that we need biodiversity?”
Ecosystems with low levels of biodiversity tend to have less life. Also, massive alterations to ecosystems are unlikely to have good effects on us.
To mention the most obvious, we depend on the oceans for food — and there are many warning signs that key fisheries are collapsing.

Reply to  AP
December 27, 2015 1:55 pm

AP an important question and one that was been taken over by sophists all around. Over the past sixty years there has been a transformation of what constitutes a species ( animals of similar morphology that reproduce genetically viable offspring) to some new biodiversity driven explanation. It seems to me that the history of evolution on this planet clearly shows that “biodiversity” is driven by change in the environment and that is a good thing. Preserving “biodiversity” is genetic pigeonholing and happens only in the static endgame that leads to ecological collapse as far as I can see. The “steady state” theory of evolution can’t evolve!

Reply to  AP
December 28, 2015 6:12 am

Editor, which came first, the low bio-diversity, or the low levels of life?
I suspect that those areas that are not capable of supporting much life in the first place are not going to develop great levels of diversity.
The question remains, how much “bio-diversity” is necessary, and how much should we sacrifice to maintain it?

JM in Canada
December 24, 2015 1:55 pm

Very interesting! Please note that 0.25 to 0.5 cm is 0,1″ to 0,2″ not 0.01 – .02″…

Scott Scarborough
Reply to  JM in Canada
December 24, 2015 2:16 pm

Or maybe he meant 0.25 to 0.5 mm.

Reply to  JM in Canada
December 24, 2015 2:41 pm

Great catch! Thanks!

Bruce Cobb
December 24, 2015 2:17 pm

I just had an idea of what could be done with that plastic; scoop it up and recycle it into dolls.
They could call them Garbage Patch Dolls ©.

hue barclay
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
January 6, 2016 9:34 pm

Wonderful mind!

December 24, 2015 2:27 pm

Excellent presentation, though another troubling observation of how the media can influence the ignorant among the public. If only there was a foundation for critical thinking which could moderate out the propaganda.

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
December 24, 2015 2:41 pm

Merry Christmas, Anthony! Thanks for making all this happen!

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
December 24, 2015 2:46 pm

Shucks, forgot you, Larry Kummer! Holiday greetings and thank!

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
December 25, 2015 12:41 am

The media sadly includes the ignoramuses. There are nowadays nice facebook groups, well informed ones, which concentrate on downshooting bad journalism. You don’t believe how much crap average newspaper publishes. You just need media tightly scrutinized by a wide range of experts.

Reply to  Hugs
December 25, 2015 2:13 pm

I agree, it’s not until you read articles in the MSM about your own area of expertise that you realise just how wrong and misleading the media can be.

bit chilly
December 24, 2015 2:33 pm

i do not know about the pacific, but there is certainly plenty garbage in the north east atlantic. this is an initiative a friend of mine takes part in.
as for over fishing , a good example of why we need to rid the world of politics and politicians as they are today. the common fisheries policy is one example of what happens when politics gets involved in managing a natural resource.
there are more desk bound managers than people working at the sharp end and the data deficiency regarding stock assessments in european union waters is a joke, as is some of the garbage to come out of ices regarding the same.
in recent years some species have had ssb revised upwards by up to 4 fold due to assessment methods that are not fit for purpose. the latest involvement by the eu in managing european sea bass and bringing under the same regime that destroyed stocks of the gadoid species is another typical cfp management disaster in the making.
the data the supposed crash in bass stocks is based on is flawed in the extreme. instead of one tree we are talking one survey.

Reply to  bit chilly
December 24, 2015 3:00 pm

bit chilly,
Thanks for the link to this worthwhile project! I’m sure most people agree that too much garbage is dumped or flows into the seas. A partially enclosed and heavily traveled area like the North Sea, almost surrounded by heavily populated areas, is certainly going to have lots of garbage.
This is, however, quite different than the claims that the oceans have giant “garbage patches” the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or the size of the continental US, or twice…
The brochure you link to provides evidence about the nature of garbage in the ocean: it’s near the surface and the bottom.

“12 pelagic vessels signed up to the project. Although the amount of litter they land is minimal, due to the mid-water nature of their fishing …”

Tom Halla
December 24, 2015 2:40 pm

Notably, when I was in school 40 years ago, “Logic” was an elective, and listed as Philisophy. One must’nt confuse the poor dears with evidence.

Les Francis
December 24, 2015 2:42 pm

A recent study by Chinese and US scientists found that plastic has deteriorated down to micro levels in the oceans. This has become evident as investigations into sea salt found ever increasing amounts of molecular and micro level plastics. These salts are used in a myriad amount of Chinese cooking products from oils to sauces.
They are not yet to carcinogenic levels.
However plastic molecules in seafood particularly crustaceans are many times higher than sea salt.
It’s not the large bits of plastic we need to worry about in the future , it’s the very small.
If these huge plastic islands do exist where are the satellite images?

Reply to  Les Francis
December 25, 2015 12:17 pm

The fear of “plastic” bits and pieces is ludicrous. It is an exercise in organic chemistry: alkaline pH, uv light, mechanical agitation by wave action eventually providing food for bacteria, etc. Plastic is a non problem. I estimate the half time is in years not centuries. In fresh water, plastic dissolution would be slower but still likely measured in decades. I read of an estimate of the life span of an aluminum beer can in fresh water of being at most 600 years and that was the high end.
Dan Kurt

December 24, 2015 2:44 pm

This is another fine example of the alarmists lying to the general public to get attention (and money of course) and the experts doing nothing to stop the lies. Surely our satellites were showing that no such thing as a sea of plastic existed, but the public heard nothing from those who could easily debunk (or confirm) the allegations.
The government and its minions* lied to you again. Notice a pattern here?
* The universities and the grant-fed “professors” are some of the biggest rent-seeking sycophants in history.

December 24, 2015 2:49 pm

The comments made on the interest to this post, and the others in this series, are fascinating. These posts compare activists’ (often activist scientists’) statements vs. findings of the IPCC, major science agencies, and the peer-reviewed literature.
The usual rebuttal is “denier” — the activist’s generic answer, sound of an activist’s mind closing. Their tolerance for misuse of science — often even cheering it — enables activist & activist scientists to continuing doing so.
Also, what about the quiet majority of climate scientists? Their reluctance to criticize their peers is sensible (look at the response to Professor Curry and the Professors Pielke). But silence is complicity. The consequences for their field might prove severe in terms of lost credibility with the public and — inevitably — lost funding.

December 24, 2015 2:54 pm

No doubt there is a lotta plastic and other stuff floating about in the seas. And circulation patterns can easily concentrate the junk.
The anti-plastic folks use the pictures of the ocean because it is very hard to show the amount of plastic in the landfills. And most of the stuff in the landfill is paper!!! The plastic does not decompose and create methane, but the paper and leftover pizza in its cardboard container surely does.
So we use cloth bags for our groceries and then allow the bacteria to grow because we do not wash/sterilize the things and then get sick and sue the grocery or whoever. Oh yeah, are the groceries gonna stop using those plastic sleeves for our taters and onions and other veggies?
Secondly, overfishing certainly played a role in depletion of cod in the North Atlantic about 25 years ago. The technology moved along faster than the monitoring of the stock and the fishery collapsed. Seems almost the same happened with the giant bluefin tuna. Down in the Gulf where I reside, we saw it happen with the red drum ( redfish) when a few fleets would use huge purse seines and catch thousands of large, spawning fish in one swoop. After a few years, the Florida, Bama, Miss and Lousiana agencies clamped down, but almost too late. The reds are slowly recovering, but the laws and regs were passed back in the early 90’s!!!
We got bigger fish to fry than plastic bags choking a turtle ( pun intended).

Curious George
December 24, 2015 2:56 pm

THE MOST important arbiters of the environmental policy debate have accordingly become the public television producers whose products bear the Academy’s imprimatur when the credits roll. They have tools at their disposal to amplify and mute at will the discordant voices within the Academy. In a fair fight, a satellite or a supercomputer doesn’t stand a chance against the editing and special effects studios of New York and Hollywood.

John Coleman
December 24, 2015 3:24 pm

A very interesting report. I knew that those claims of extreme plastic pollution must be greatly exaggerated, but the media (in which I worked) totally accepted and distributed them as unchallenged truth. All of that aside, I feel that modern science is doing a great job of cleaning out fuels and atmosphere in the more civilized regions of Earth (while the third world is burning fossil fuels with old technology and is horribly polluted) but even in modern nations we are continuing to fail at cleaning the oceans. Many cities are pumping poorly treated or untreated sewage into the oceans and some are even dumping their trash out at sea. We must be great caretakers of our blue marble,

Warren Latham
Reply to  John Coleman
December 25, 2015 1:55 am

Very nice to read your comment. I am a great fan of yours (in England).
There is however one clause which needs some attention: you use the expression “third world”. There is no such thing as a “third” world; there is only one. You and I are both on it unless one of us is on planet zog.
If you really mean “poor” countries, then I respectfully ask you to say so.
Thank you.

Reply to  Warren Latham
December 26, 2015 11:35 am

Please, don’t be so disingenuous. “Third World” has a very specific meaning in geopolitical language, we are NOT discussing astronomy. And you SHOULD be familiar with the term “Third World”, as England not only presided over a large chunk of it for centuries, but is in large part responsible for it. And oddly enough, England is well on its Merry Olde Waye to becoming a part of the Third World itself.

Reply to  Warren Latham
December 28, 2015 6:18 am

Those areas that were colonized by England are doing much better than the areas that weren’t.
Your belief that England caused the poverty in those countries is completely wrong.

James Francisco
December 24, 2015 3:35 pm

We must do all we can to protect our water because without it no life could exist and it is the main ingredient of beer. 🙂

Reply to  James Francisco
December 28, 2015 6:19 am

In wine there is truth.
In beer there is strength.
In water there is bacteria.

December 24, 2015 3:48 pm

It is mind boggling that the top picture is used as representing the open Pacific ocean. It is so screamingly obvious that it is a picture of a beach. We all know the term “willfully ignorant”, but this is a whole new level of stupid. For anyone who might accept that picture as open ocean, perhaps the term “willfully gullible” is better.
But coastal pollution is certainly a problem here in the US. Look at the top of the picture and note the big block building? It is the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral.
Here is a closer look.comment image
So the beach is nearby Cocoa Beach, Fla. What was once a beautiful recreational beach and tourist draw is now chocked with trash, and the inhabitants reduced to third world subsistence fishing.
Truly a shame.
Merry Christmas All.

Reply to  TonyL
December 24, 2015 6:03 pm

Look at the picture again I think you are mistaken

Ray Boorman
Reply to  TonyL
December 24, 2015 6:33 pm

Since when did anyone in Florida use a decidedly Third World boat to go fishing? It’s the Philippines!

December 24, 2015 3:50 pm

Try againcomment image

Mark Folkestad
Reply to  TonyL
December 24, 2015 10:29 pm

NO! That is NOT the Vehicle Assembly Building! The shoreline to the north of Cape Canaveral does NOT curve like the shoreline in the garbage photo. The building bears a superficial similarity to the VAB, but the rest of the skyline of the station isn’t close to the same. As Ray Boorman pointed out, that’s an Asian boat with Asian fishermen in and around it! Haven’t you ever spent time looking at aerial and satellite photos and reconciling them with maps and street views?

Steve Reddish
Reply to  TonyL
December 24, 2015 10:55 pm

Great picture of the Vehicle Assembly Building with Launch Pad 39A at the far end of the 3-mile long Saturn Causeway! I see that the VAB is a single large block building.
The top picture has 2 apparently equal height buildings with a 3rd apparently slightly shorter building (or just further away) very close to the water and no sign of a tower of any type between them and the shore.
What was your point, again?

Reply to  Steve Reddish
December 25, 2015 12:48 am

What was your point, again?

Simple, Really.
If people would accept these pictures as a nonsensical view of the open ocean, they would also accept my alternate reality that the pictures represent Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center.
No wonder people believe in Global Warming.

Haven’t you ever spent time looking at aerial and satellite photos and reconciling them with maps and street views?

No I have not. Have You?
Cocoa Beach is South of the Space Flight Center. With the Atlantic ocean to the east, the picture is the wrong way around. Looking north from Cocoa Beach to the Space Flight Center, the ocean must be to the right not the left.
Merry Christmas!
{I hope I do not get in trouble for trolling at WUWT}

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Steve Reddish
December 27, 2015 12:00 am

Tonyl, your reply below confirmed my suspicion. I had considered “Did you forget a sarc tag?” instead of the “What was…”

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Steve Reddish
December 27, 2015 12:01 am

Reply above

Reply to  TonyL
December 25, 2015 3:59 pm

And what’s that supposed to prove? –AGF

Reply to  TonyL
December 26, 2015 1:11 pm

Reply to All ==> TonyL was teasing you.
BTW, I visited the Kennedy Space Center last week with friends from Virginia…they have a great Disney-like presentation, bus tours, displays, and a truly impressive launch simulator.
Note that the VAB is not close to the beach as in the garbage patch image.comment image

Lewis P Buckingham
December 24, 2015 4:17 pm

In the search for missing Malaysian Flight MH370 two things are clear, that the aircraft debris is largely gone and that when you look at the videos of the water, there is nothing floating on it.
If plastics float, they are destroyed by ozone, uv and wave action, which would explain this finding.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
May all your Christmases be bright.

December 24, 2015 5:11 pm

If these patches really exist, why aren’t the UN, Greenpeace and the rest of the Green Blob using their MASSIVE funds to clean it up.
Let me guess… NO MONEY to be fleeced off the tax-payers or governments

December 24, 2015 5:35 pm

Of the roughly 20 most common plastics, only 5 float. The rest will go to the bottom, though deep currents could raise some of them as turbidity later. Of the 5 “floaters,” one is polystyrene (PS) foam, two are polyethylene (PE) and two are polypropylene (PP). These happen to be the cheapest plastics, so recovering them for reuse (“Garbage Patch Dolls”) is uneconomical. The latter 4 also happen to be inert & non-toxic. PE, for example, is so inert, it’s added to cattle feed for bulk, then later recovered and recycled.

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
December 24, 2015 5:54 pm

If there was an island of plastic I would lay all the money in the world that it would be teaming with life.

Reply to  bob boder
December 26, 2015 8:51 am

I’ve read of logs floating hundreds of miles out in the Pacific that have schools of fish hovering about them, and recall the the raft “Kon Tiki” had its private ecosystem exploiting its underside.

Eugene WR Gallun
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
December 24, 2015 8:11 pm

Didn’t see your “Garbage Patch Dolls” before I wrote my take below.
Eugene WR Gallun

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
December 26, 2015 8:47 am

The larger bits of plastic start to have barnacles grow on them, which makes them get heavier and heavier until they sink. Therefore, if one insists upon worrying, one should worry about litter on the sea bottom.
The micro-bits are another matter. Considering there are micro-critters that thrive on oil seeping up through cracks in the sea-bottom, it would not surprise me if there were micro-critters that can chow down on plastic. But I imagine that, if one could obtain the grant, a study of powdered plastic mixed with sea water, and what happens, would be worthwhile and interesting.

Eugene WR Gallun
December 24, 2015 8:06 pm

You mean my new spectacular idea for dolls called “Garbage Patch KIds” isn’t going to float?
Eugene WR Gallun

December 24, 2015 9:08 pm

Throw a hydrocarbon in the ocean and no matter how stable it is, sooner or later, something is going to come along and use it for a food source.

Reply to  MattS
December 24, 2015 9:52 pm

Cast thy plastic upon the waters, and after many days thou shalt see it again.
Ecclesiastes 11:1

Mark Folkestad
December 25, 2015 1:37 am

TonyL either forgot to put in a sarc tag or is of the opinion that he is far more clever than the rest of us. Yes, I have reconciled overhead photos with maps and street view photos. Your point? As to the location of Cocoa Beach, that is immaterial, since a reader might well assume (without help from a sarc tag) that you can’t be trusted to know which beach near the station it is if you make a gross error as to the poor building match and the complete non-match of the beach. Anyone looking at the garbage photo using your identification of it as the VAB, and armed with a knowledge of Florida’s Atlantic Coast, would know that the photo would have been taken from the north of the VAB, looking south. The shoreline is a complete mismatch for the shoreline north of the VAB, and it is impossible for the shot to have been looking north, if your identification is serious. Just make things clearer and we won’t have dust-ups in the future. Those of us who commented about your statement were merely trying to clear up what appeared to be an error.

Reply to  Mark Folkestad
December 25, 2015 8:18 pm

I let this sentence from TonyL convince me that his comment was tongue in cheek;
” What was once a beautiful recreational beach and tourist draw is now chocked with trash, and the inhabitants reduced to third world subsistence fishing.”

clovis marcus
December 25, 2015 2:15 am

What if we find out that the plastic bottles form an ecosphere that supports massive diversity?

December 25, 2015 3:09 am

“..the flood of exaggerations and lies about environmental problems — as in the example shown here — only further erode people’s already low confidence in our institutions.”
Exactly right!
There is a very high opportunity cost that’s paid when people lie about science because they want action on their pet causes. Money and other resources are misappropriated, leaving real problems to fester.
And many people who pay attention become disaffected. I wouldn’t dream of donating to my alma maters, for example, because they’re still pushing the Global Warming hoax.

December 25, 2015 3:13 am

Well , I do not know , but here below is link to a roughly 1. year old newspaper article , citing a then just published :
The second paragraph says:
” Researchers unveiled Wednesday what they called the most scientifically rigorous estimate to date of the amount of plastic litter in the oceans — about 269,000 tons — based on data from 24 ship expeditions around the globe over six years.”
So if we hypoteize an average density of 2 gram/cubic-cm (or 2 tons/cubic-meter) the total volume of plastic litter in the oceans is around 540 thousand cubic meters or 0.00054 cubic-km
in a body of water that is roughly 300×10^6 x 3.75 cubic-km or c.a 50 parts per trillion.

Reply to  Björn
December 25, 2015 3:24 am

i meant to say “…citing a then just published study:” in the second line in th posting above.

December 25, 2015 4:21 am

In the Netherlands a company has been established to clean up the ocean from 2020. 25 people are supposed to work there. read here:

Reply to  theorichel
December 25, 2015 4:32 pm

Only 25 people to clean up the entire ocean? They’ll have to work overtime to get it done by Tuesday.

Plan Jane
December 25, 2015 5:21 am

Havent read all the comments so maybe someone else mentioned this, but , bit like global warming, even if it is true is it such a bad thing? In open oceans the main limiting factor for living things is often some sort of substrate to live on. Floating plastic would be a home to much plant life and then also lots of animal life, it would form a floating reef. The amount of living things would increase and so there would be an increase in biodiversity (which is good – right?). Therefore floating plastic is more “sustainable” than a lack of floating plastic. Perhaps we should start a tax payer funded program to increase the amount of floating plastic ?

Reply to  Plan Jane
December 25, 2015 7:13 am

Plain Jane,
The concern of scientists is that the chemicals produced by breakdown of plastics in the ocean might have harmful effects. It’s a legitimate concern, and a subject for research.

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 25, 2015 8:12 pm

Um….plastics are made from hydrocarbons. You know, ORGANIC chemicals. There is nothing hazardous in their decay products.

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 26, 2015 5:43 am

That’s an odd comment.
Many petroleum-based compounds — and their breakdown products — are toxic.
Many organic chemicals are poisons. Such as snake venom.

Reply to  Editor of the Fabius Maximus website
December 26, 2015 5:44 am

My mistake – that above comment was meant for Bruce, not RoHa.
That’s an odd comment.
Many petroleum-based compounds — and their breakdown products — are toxic.
Many organic chemicals are poisons. Such as snake venom.

Reply to  Plan Jane
December 25, 2015 8:41 am

I assume your post is sarcasm?

Reply to  Chris
December 25, 2015 12:10 pm

“I assume your post is sarcasm?”
I don’t understand. Are you asking if this post is sarcasm? Or are you referring to my comment? If so, why?

Dr. Deanster
December 25, 2015 7:04 am

I still say we should gather up the all the trash in the pacific … and burn it in an old coal fired plant to generate electricity with it.

December 25, 2015 7:26 am

I was all in, until I read “We do know that overfishing and pollution are wrecking the ocean, creating one of our most serious ecological problems. We need to act soon.”
One out of two claims aint bad!
Pollution from inept wastewater treatment that spew society’s Big Pharme chemical cocktails into the coastal eco systems of the world are destroying fisheries, and causing chronic UNDERPRODUCTION of the fisheries.
Fish declines linked to effects of excess nutrients in coastal estuaries and the abundance of fish in offshore commercial fishery
The same groups that are pushing the global warming/plastic in the ocean meme, are the SAME groups pushing the overfishing hogwash, and you buy it?
The same agency that doctors claims about global warming, NOAA, is the same agency that relies on catch data from fishermen to do fish assessments, and its disregarded?
They are NOT using climate data in fish stock assessments, which would indicate redistribution of the imperiled stocks! We can’t have that fact included because it would blow the “science” out of the water like it did with Atlantic butterfish, and Atlantic Menhaden, the battlefront for Pews Forage fish campaign!
I’ve, at different times, left comments here on different articles, trying to get some interest in in the bull shit fish science of NOAA, thinking we could see the undisputed parallel of the tactics used by NOAA bureaucrats, and political appointees, but, even I can see its only wishful thinking on my part.
It’s a rare occasion that I would disagree with information printed here, but I’ll tell you. You are dead wrong about the fisheries, and are now flying the Pew/Oceana flag. I am disgusted.
The Big Green Money Machine – how anti-fishing activists are taking over NOAA
Bore Head @

Dr. Deanster
Reply to  Bore Head
December 25, 2015 8:26 am

I’ll take it that you are anti-big pharma???
People who are anti-big pharma should never take any of their snake oil medicines. … just as the global warming zealots should never use fossil fuels to travel or power thier businesses or homes.

Reply to  Dr. Deanster
December 25, 2015 9:08 am

I should expect this kind of response! You automatically assume I am anti big pharma?
How about I’m pro infrastructure, eliminating the problem of the pollution?!!
Instead of wasting money, destroying the ocean through zoning so wind farms, and other foolish notions of open ocean fin fish aquaculture, we could invest in treatment plants that could actually remove the chemical cocktails from entering the brooding area’s for 70% of the worlds juvenile fish!
My mother died last year. The hospice person that came to the house to retrieve her meds (lots), and flushed them down the toilet, to the plant that can’t remove them, to the outfall into the river with a healthy belt of killer chlorine!
You Must be anti waste water treatment plants that work, Dr.Deanster?

December 25, 2015 10:46 am

I have sailed through this area. North from Hawaii along 155 degree longitude line to 39 latitude, then northeast to Jaun de Fuca. I have to agree totally with this post, based on what i saw with my own eyes. There was plastic and that’s a travesty, but, I never saw any concentrations of it at all. It was there, sparsely. Two litre pop bottles, styrofoam and orange plastic, that I took to be parts of nets. None of this is meant to excuse it being there or to say it’s alright, but, I saw nothing like the pictures being used to create “awareness”.

Robin Hewitt
December 25, 2015 4:04 pm

The pictures of albatross chick skeletons littered with the plastic debris they were supposedly fed . Were those faked? I do hope so.

Reply to  Robin Hewitt
December 26, 2015 5:17 am

There are certainly plenty of those from Midway which is said to be on the edge of the gyre that concentrates the garbage.
There are videos too, I have no reason to think that they’re faked but as to how big a problem it is there’s no evidence.

Reply to  Phil.
December 26, 2015 7:11 am

There are plenty of these pictures from everywhere. But we don’t know the source of the plastic (or, for that matter, the location of this photo).
Midway had an active Navy base. it was downgraded in 1978 and closed in 1993. Military bases often have large garbage dumps, which might be the source of this bird’s plastic diet.

michael hart
December 25, 2015 4:04 pm

It’s the same old same old chemo-phobic bollocks.
It used to be: “These chemicals will destroy the world.”
Now it is: “These chemicals will destroy the world if you polymerize them.”
From beginning to end.

December 25, 2015 4:20 pm

Was in Naples, Italy this fall and noticed that the Port had a machine would sieve through the water and remove all the floating debris near the shore.
It seemed to go about on a schedule and Naples is a large Port….
Of course then they probably bagged it up, threw it in a landfill and then…

December 25, 2015 4:28 pm

Why is it always Texas? It is such an odd shape for comparison purposes. Why not somewhere squareish, like the Northern Territory, or, if it must be somewhere Americans have heard of, Montana or Wyoming?

Reply to  RoHa
December 28, 2015 6:27 am

I think it’s psychological. Everybody knows that Texas is big. And if they don’t know, the Texans will remind them.

December 25, 2015 4:36 pm

Locally (Finger Lakes of NYS) some local politicians are concerned with “microbeads” which seem to be very tiny plastic gobs added to certain cosmetics, toothpaste, etc, which find their way through the sewers into the lakes. Apparent big concern! But…..
Here on WUWT we learn new things! In the oceans, larger plastic items gradually grind themselves up into tiny particles and are eventually eaten by appreciating microbes. Fresh water rather than salt might slow things down, but wouldn’t the micro part of microbeads be a head start?
Just asking. Does anyone know?

Leonard Jones
December 27, 2015 8:46 am

I have long called BS on this issue. If it was as big as it was reported, it WOULD be large
enough to be observed by running Google Maps. If it can resolve something the size
of a small child, why (as they claim) can it not be seen by satellite? When they
claim it to be the size of Texas in one breath, but can’t be seen on Google Maps,
in the other, that is the first clue you are being bull&#((@&**!

January 3, 2016 11:50 am

I have sailed through the Sargasso sea , the gyre in the North Atlantic between the Caribbean and Azores . Yes , the was plastic and some glass floating there , mostly in the form of fishing floats and buoys , but also a few polystyrene and plastic containers . However by far the most impressive was the amount of floating seaweed supported by bladders . Scooping some up revealed a complete living ecosystem , including crabs , and varieties of barnacles and anemones on the more solid stuff . An ocean garbage patch ? Not at all .

Hue Barclay
January 6, 2016 9:31 pm

Why not say it is a million times the size of Rhode Island??? So much more dramatic!!!
Or place the blame on the probably real polluter, China. The entire mass of defective and discarded dollar store items is worth about $89.00.

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