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In Images: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Massive garbage patch

trash island formed in great pacific garbage patch

(Image credit: Algalita)

About 15 years after first discovering the great Pacific garbage patch, Capt. Charles Moore returned in 2014 and discovered that semi-permanent islands made of ropes, buoys and other detritus were forming in the region.

Trash island

trash island

(Image credit: Algalita)

Here, an up-close look at the "Shark Island" (so named because of its appearance). Buoys, anchors and ropes washed to sea when the 2011 Japanese Tsunami inundated aquaculture boats may have formed the island, researchers hypothesize.

Trash adrift

gas tank bobbing in the ocean

(Image credit: Algalita)

Moore first discovered the trash while returning from a yacht race in 1997. Here, a gas tank bobs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Larger extent

garbage patch plastic ocean debris

(Image credit: Algalita)

In a new expedition, Moore's team has found plastic debris in places they didn't expect to.

Trawling for trash

Giora Proskurowski deploys a net collect samples that help estimate how much plastic debris is in the ocean.

(Image credit: Sea Education Association)

A scientist on another expedition trawls for trash in the ocean.

Secret life

foam floats with bacteria and invetebrates

(Image credit: Erik Zettler, SEA)

Past research has found that a secret world of microbes and microorganisms lives on the plastic detritus in the ocean. Here, scientist Greg Boyd (from a separate expedition) shows the sea life that has colonized foam floats.

Deeper Ocean

trash bag corla

(Image credit: MBARI)

A 2014 paper found that the ocean plastic is mysteriously disappearing, possibly because it is being carried deep into the ocean, like this trash bag found deep below an underwater canyon off the coast of Monterey, California.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.