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The oceanographer who in 1997 discovered the huge collection of floating garbage between Hawaii and California that's become known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has just returned from his tenth trip to the area and says he's "shocked" by the growth in the amount of plastic refuse now there.
Charles J. Moore says much of the plastic that's there has been pulverized by ocean waves, then eaten by ocean creatures that larger fish eat, and the effect on the food chain is causing lasting harm. In 2001, when his research team published its first survey of the area, there was six times more plastic than plankton in the area. By 2009, it was up to about 36 times more.
"Now I'm afraid it's going to be in the hundreds," Moore told Here & Now's Robin Young. "It was just incredible to sail through trash that you could net from the bow of the boat for hundreds of miles."
It's not just American waste causing the issue — Moore reported finding Japanese and Chinese garbage as well — but he says changing the situation will take extreme action on the part of American companies.
"It's not practical to truly clean up these enormous ocean gyres," he explained, "but at least the manufacturers of these plastics should have some sort of a fund where they research the problem, they get out there, they get this stuff up, they start making a list of the 'Dirty Dozen,' and start trying to change. Because unless we begin the struggle to change the way we produce and consume plastics, we'll never get to where we want to go."
This segment aired on August 28, 2014.