Where Has All the Plastic Rubbish Gone in the Indian Ocean?

The Indian Ocean is the world’s biggest dumping ground for plastic waste, but nobody seems to know where it goes. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
The Indian Ocean is the world’s biggest dumping ground for plastic waste, but nobody seems to know where it goes. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have found that although the Indian Ocean is the world’s biggest dumping ground for plastic waste, nobody seems to know where it goes. Professor Chari Pattiaratchi, from UWA’s Oceans Graduate School and the Oceans Institute, said compared to other ocean basins, little research had been done to measure and track plastic waste in the Indian Ocean. Professor Pattiaratchi said:

In a research paper published in Journal Geophysical Research (Oceans), researchers used information gathered from more than 22,000 satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys that had been released around all the world’s oceans since 1979, to simulate pathways of plastic waste globally with an emphasis on the Indian Ocean.

Professor Pattiaratchi said every year, up to 15 million tons of plastic waste was estimated to make its way into the ocean through coastlines and rivers, adding:

Professor Pattiaratchi said some floating plastics were known to collect in the center of subtropical gyres (large systems of circulating ocean currents) in “garbage patches,” explaining:

The best known of these garbage patches is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which contains about 80,000 tons of plastic waste. Similar but smaller patches exist in the North and South Atlantic Oceans and the South Pacific Ocean. In total, it is estimated that only 1 percent of all plastic waste that enters the ocean is trapped in the garbage patches.

It is still a mystery what happens to the remaining 99 percent of plastic waste that has entered the ocean, according to Professor Pattiaratchi. Lead author, Mirjam van der Mheen, who is undertaking the research as part of her UWA Ph.D., said the research team found that unique characteristics of the southern Indian Ocean transport floating plastics toward the western side of the ocean, where it leaks past South Africa into the South Atlantic Ocean, explaining:

Provided by: University of Western Australia [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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