The Pacific problem has been well covered by the media but the Atlantic situation has been all but ignored – though scientists have been collecting data for over two decades.

The Sea Education Association’s Kara Lavender Law told edie that the research organisation, which has been charting the extent of the problem on annual tours since the 1980s, believes that plastic waste is accumulating in a narrow band running east from Bermuda for over 1,000 miles.

“When you look at the scientific data available, the extent of the problem in the Pacific is not necessarily better understood or known – in terms of the extent and amount of debris – but through the efforts of the Algalita Foundation it has received far more attention in the media and public eye,” Ms Lavender Law told edie.

“The data set we have presented is the longest and most extensive data set in any ocean, and we have eight years of plastics data that we have collected in the eastern Pacific as well.

“From the regions we have sampled we believe the extent of the problem is comparable in the two basins.

“We find comparable amounts of peak concentrations of plastic debris, but because no one has enough data to define the extent of plastic pollution in either ocean, we can’t say for sure whether one has more plastic than the other.”

Plastic waste is a major environmental problem in the world’s oceans as the time periods over which it breaks down are huge, meaning that every year the extent of the problem grows.

The plastics come from a variety of sources, from poor waste management in coastal areas and accidental spills through to deliberate dumping of unwanted plastic containers and other products at sea.

The impact of plastics on marine life is not fully understood, but it is known to have caused problems to birds, sea mammals and fish that have ingested plastic items mistaking them for food.

As part of its wider research, SEA sends ships to the affected region where they trawl for trash with semi-submerged nets to assess type, density and distribution of the waste.

Sam Bond

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