Student Plans to Create First Ever Map Depicting Floating Plastic Waste in the Ocean

Sea turtle swimming in the ocean

Plastic debris invading our oceans is a huge problem for sea life and the entire ocean ecosystem. We highlighted the issue here at Trash Talk several days ago when we covered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge area of the ocean between California and Japan littered with tiny pieces of plastic. Julia Reisser, a Ph.D. student from The University of Western Australia, is taking aim at the problem by creating the first ever detailed map showing the distribution of floating plastic debris in the Australian region.

This is quite a massive undertaking for Reisser considering the extent of the problem. According to, there is approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. Reisser’s plan is to study where the plastic is most concentrated, and how it flows in the ocean currents. The primary purpose of the study is to help baby sea turtles affected by floating plastic trash. Sea turtles often mistake plastic for food, and baby sea turtles can get stuck in things like the plastic holders for six-pack cans.

ocean plastic sea turtles


Reisser stated,

“The early life of sea turtles occurs at the ocean's surface, where there's an increasing amount of floating plastics that are proving fatal to hatchlings.”

She added,

“My work is identifying the places contributing most to the increase in plastics in Australia's oceans and how this links to sea turtle life cycles.”

The surveying mission will be conducted aboard the Southern Surveyor, a research vessel used by scientists studying Australia’s ocean waters. The 311-foot long Investigator, a state-of-the-art vessel capable of spending up to 300 days per year at sea, will replace the Southern Surveyor in 2013.

Reisser’s study emphasizes the importance of responsible waste removal. Plastic is especially damaging to the environment when disposed of improperly, since it decomposes slowly and releases toxic elements into the ocean. According to the U.S. National Park Service, it can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose in the environment.

The solution is to promote recycling efforts in your area. Do your part by recycling plastic at your home. Plastic that reaches landfills is often recycled as well. More and more eco-friendly landfills across the country are sorting out plastic materials for recycling. So, even making sure that plastic bottles and bags make it into the waste bin can help improve the health of our oceans and sea life.

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