Plastic in the ocean: 'It doesn't add up to an island'

Plastic in the ocean: 'It doesn't add up to an island' »Play Video

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- It's the stuff of eco-legend: an island of trash in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas.

Research by an Oregon State University professor found it just doesn't exist.

"There's no cohesive patch of plastic that anybody would set up shop on or start selling real estate in," said Angelicque White, an assistant professor of oceanography at OSU.

White and her crew set sail from Hawaii in 2008, measuring the amount of plastic in the water. They didn't find an island of trash in one spot; instead, they reached three primary conclusions:

1. Plastic is widespread in nature;

2. Plastic is dilute in the ocean; and,

3. Plastic in the ocean is small in size. 

"It doesn't add up to an island. If you were to corral all the plastic from the surface ocean into one cohesive patch, it's less than one percent the size of Texas," said White.

White said to think of the amount of plastic in the world's oceans by imagining 1,000 water bottles: for every thousand bottles filled with ocean water, between three and five of those bottles would have one piece of plastic in them about the size of a pencil eraser.

Not that she thinks plastic in the ocean isn't a problem.

"There's a whole range of consequences for the invasion of plastic into the marine environment that we don't fully understand," said White. "And I think in order to be effective advocates for that sort of research, we need to be accurate about the concentrations and the extent and impact of plastic pollution."

White said the image of a plastic island or patch floating in the ocean stuck perhaps because it's a visual reminder of using resources wisely.

"I think it's a really sad commentary that you have to imagine islands of plastic before you would change your behavior on what resources you were going to use," said White.