It lies between Hawaii and California and is often described as “larger than Texas,” even though it contains not a square foot of surface on which to stand. It cannot be seen from space, as is often claimed.
The lack of terra firma did not deter a pair of advertising executives from declaring the patch to be an actual place. They named it the nation of Trash Isles, signed up former Vice President Al Gore as its first “citizen” and last fall, petitioned the United Nations for recognition. The publicity stunt perpetuated the myth.
The patch was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, a yachtsman who had sailed through a mishmash of floating plastic bottles and other debris on his way home to Los Angeles. It was named by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer known for his expertise in tracking ocean currents and the movement of cargo lost overboard, including rubber duck bath toys and Nike tennis shoes. The patch is now the target of a $32 million cleanup campaign launched by a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat, now 23, and head of the Ocean Cleanup, the organization he founded to do the job.
Beyond those details, not much was known about the specific contents of the patch—until now.
Microplastics make up 94 percent of an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch. But that only amounts to eight percent of the total tonnage. As it turns out, of the 79,000 metric tons of plastic in the patch, most of it is abandoned fishing gear—not plastic bottles or packaging drawing headlines today.