Grace Smith | May 23, 2022
Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, hypothesized that gyres consolidate plastic and living organisms similarly. Gyres are global circular currents powered by wind that can act as a whirlpool, which creates garbage patches in the ocean. Helm published the study on April 28, finding her hypothesis accurate after following French swimmer Benoit Lecomte over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Supporting evidence was also found through additional experiments in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in the Pacific Ocean and is the world’s largest ocean garbage patch. Researchers that followed Lecomte through the patch found, in some parts of the garbage, there was almost the same number of neuston, or surface-dwelling organisms, and pieces of plastic in the patch. The finding demonstrated the accuracy of Helm’s original hypothesis.
Although fascinating, Helm said her study could potentially complicate plastic cleanup measures as conservationists attempt to get rid of the 269,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean. Today, plastic waste make up 80% of sea pollution and kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds every year. Plastic in the ocean harms all sea life including small fish as well as large whales because they mistake the waste for food or get tangled in pieces of plastic. Despite the home that neuston have found, Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, told The New York Times that individuals around the world must take into account the large-scale and harmful effects of plastic in the ocean.