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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, however, the patch is not visible from satellite photography.
Like other areas of concentrated marine debris in the world's oceans, the Eastern Garbage Patch has formed gradually over time as a result of marine pollution gathered by the action of oceanic currents.
The garbage patch occupies a large and relatively stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean bound by the North Pacific Gyre (a remote area commonly referred to as the horse latitudes). The rotational pattern created by the North Pacific Gyre draws in waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including the coastal waters off North America and Japan. As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually move floating debris toward the center, trapping it in the region.
The size of the affected region is unknown, but estimates range from 700,000 km² to more than 15 million km², (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean). The area may contain over 100 million tons of debris. It has also been suggested that the patch may represent two areas of debris that are linked.
Sources of pollutants
It has been estimated that 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources, and 20% from ships at sea. Currents carry debris from the west coast of North America to the gyre in about five years, and debris from the east coast of Asia in a year or less. An international project led by Dr. Hideshige Takada of Tokyo University studying plastic pellets from beaches around the world may provide further clues about the origins of pelagic plastic, including that of the Pacific garbage patch.