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Map: Where all the junk in the ocean ends up

January 28, 2012 |  8:40 am


If you read this story by Ken Ellingwood about the deluge of trash on a Mexican beach, you may be wondering: Just where does all the junk that goes into the ocean end up?

Nikolai Maximenko is trying to answer that question. Trash gathers into "garbage patches" that are too diffuse to spot from a satellite. Scientists have encountered several areas where trash collects in the ocean, but nobody is sure where all of it is.

Maximenko, a senior researcher with the International Pacific Research Center, led a team that created a computer model based on ocean currents to map out where those patches will pop up a decade after trash first enters the oceans:


What’s in that trash? For decades, the International Coastal Cleanup has been keeping an eye on the junk that turns up on beaches. The biggest offender was cigarettes and cigarette filters, which made up 25% of the trash it tracked between 1989 and 2007.

Second place went to paper and plastic bags, which made up 9% of the mess, closely followed by beverage lids. Check out this report to find more data, including how ocean trash differs in different parts of the world.


Dark tides, ill winds

A primeval tide of toxins

Plague of plastic chokes the seas

Photo: Researchers Matt Durham and Miriam Goldstein encounter a "ghost net" with tangled rope, plastic and biological organisms. The survey studied the Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,000 miles off the California coast. Credit: Mario Aguilera/Scripps Institution of Oceanography