Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, sea trash was not a global headliner.
But as hundreds of objects sighted off the Australian coast as possible aircraft debris turn out to be discarded fishing equipment, cargo container parts, or plastic shopping bags, a new narrative is emerging in the hunt for the missing plane:
There’s more garbage out there than you think. Most of it is plastic. And marine life ingests it, with catastrophic consequences.
“This is the first time the whole world is watching, and so it’s a good time for people to understand that our oceans are garbage dumps,” says Kathleen Dohan, a scientist at Earth and Space Research in Seattle, Washington, who maps ocean surface currents. “This is a problem in every ocean basin.”
Dohan plotted the movement of debris in a time-lapse video that shows where objects dropped into the ocean will end up in ten years.
The objects migrate to regions known as garbage patches. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have two patches each, north and south.
The Indian Ocean’s garbage patch is centered roughly halfway between Africa and Australia.
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