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The Pacific Trash Vortex Has a Counterpart in the Great Lakes

Scientists monitoring Lake Erie have found tons of harmful plastic debris known as microplastics or "nurdles."
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NOAA

When people swim in Lake Erie, they're frolicking not just among perch and walleye but a vast, inanimate presence of garbage. This material floats just beneath the surface and is made of little bits of plastic, known as microplastics or "mermaids' tears," which come from trash dropped by humans and probably industrial facilities around the lake as well.

Oceanographers have been aware of plastic-particle water pollution since at least the 1960s. It got great public billing in the '80s when NOAA informed us of a vast zone of plastic debris coursing through the Pacific Ocean. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or "Trash Vortex," if you prefer) has popped up in observers' reports between Hawaii and California and off the coast of Japan; some say it's twice the size of Texas, although the true extent is unknown. Researchers are just now beginning to understand that lakes are plastic garbage dumps, too, and ones that could hold much denser concentrations of debris than the oceans.