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Over 75% of plastic in Great Pacific Garbage Patch originates from fishing

by The Ocean Cleanup 2 Sep 2022 22:09 UTC
Plastic extraction from System 002, The Ocean Cleanup's ocean system cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Many crates and buoys originating from fishing activities can be seen in the catch © The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup has today published new research in the journal Scientific Reports showing that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is largely composed of fishing-related plastic waste, with 75% to 86% of all plastic waste in the GPGP identified as coming from offshore fishing activity.

  • Study in 'scientific reports' indicates 75% to 86% of GPGP plastic attributable to offshore fishing and aquaculture activities
  • Majority of GPGP fishing gear originates from the U.S., China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula
  • Results emphasize the essential role of the fishing industry and major fishing nations in ocean cleaning
  • Plastic emissions from rivers remain by far largest source of plastic pollution into global ocean

Analysis of over 6,000 plastic objects also found that major industrialized fishing nations (including the United States, China, Japan and Korea) are the principal producers of the fishing waste found in the GPGP, an area three times the size of France and the world's largest accumulation of floating ocean plastic.

At a global level, emissions from rivers remain by far the largest source of plastic pollution into the oceans. However, specifically for the GPGP, this is not the case, and this confirms that the GPGP requires an approach not only involving cleanup and interception; this 'other source' of GPGP pollution - i.e., plastic originating from fishing activities - must also be tackled.

The Ocean Cleanup conducted the research on plastic objects and fragments captured in the GPGP during cleaning operations of its System 001/B solution in 2019. Researchers painstakingly investigated the origins, sources and ages of these objects to create the most comprehensive picture of GPGP plastic so far presented, building on The Ocean Cleanup's previous research, conducted in 2018.

"This research significantly expands our understanding of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," said Matthias Egger, Ocean Plastic Researcher at The Ocean Cleanup. "In order to solve this problem we need to understand it, and identifying the origins of GPGP plastic is essential to our cleanup efforts, and the efforts of other organizations, to reduce this other source of pollution."

"To stop the inflow of plastic into our oceans, addressing river emissions - the largest source - must remain core priority," said Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. "However, to ensure our work to clean up the GPGP is truly sustainable, fishing gear inputs must also be stopped. We hope our latest study will enable organizations and the fishing industry itself to address this other source of plastic pollution to the GPGP."

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