Media reports about marine pollution have tended to fixate on the idea of "great garbage patches"--huge floating islands of waste circulating in the gyres of the major oceans. Outlets have often spoken of patches "twice the size of Texas", giving the impression of trash blankets easily visible from planes or satellite.
The reality, say scientists, is something less tangible, though no less alarming. The trash--most of it plastic--may not be easy to see. But it is there, suspended in tiny pieces, on the surface, and below the waves. And new research indicates that the problem may even be worse than previously understood.
According to Giora Proskurowski, a project scientist at the University of Washington, what lies on the top of oceans is only a fraction of what lies beneath. On average, the next 100 feet below the waterline contains 2.5 times the plastic of what’s on the surface, he says. And, when winds are really churning up the water, there could be as much 27 times more plastic in the water column.