The amount of plastic in the ocean area known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased a hundredfold since the early 1970s, according to a new study, and the alarming findings could pressure California and other coastal states to do more to reduce plastic trash.
"We were really surprised. It is a very large increase," said Miriam Goldstein, a Ph.D. graduate student in biological oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and lead author of the study.
"Plastic had been detected in the open ocean in the early 1970s," she said. "People were raising the alarm then. The fact it has gotten so much worse is really disappointing."
The broken-down tiny bits sit on or near the surface, where they are eaten by fish, sea turtles and other marine animals that confuse them for food. The latest samples show that the garbage patch has grown not in size but in density: There are roughly 100 times more pieces per cubic meter of water than were in samples during the 1970s.
The research, published in Wednesday's online editions of the journal Biology Letters, also found the debris is affecting the food web.
Read more from the Mercury News.