A garbage dump of all things plastic floating in two huge patches either side of the Hawaiian Islands, held in place by underwater currents. This sea of rubbish is translucent and not detectable in staellite photographs as it lies just beneath the surface of the water.
Curtis Ebbesmeyer is an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam who has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for 15 years. He says this 'trash vortex' is like a living entity.
"It moves around like a big animal without a leash. When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. The garbage patch barfs and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic".
I've seen one of these beaches covered with bright plastic pebbles but haven't managed to google an image. Probably the tourist board wouldn't like it publicised.
The soup contains everything from footballs, kayaks, lego blocks and carry bags. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushed have been found inside the stomachs of dead sea birds. They get their heads tangled in plastic six pack holders and turtles swallow plastic bags thinking they're jellyfish. It's not just rubbish thrown from ships and oil rigs (that accounts for about one-fifth) but land based plastic industries contribute hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets which attract and bind to other pollutants such as hydrocarbons and DDT. Modern plastics are so durable that objects 50 years old have been found in the north Pacific dump.
The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
Professor David Karl is co-ordinating an expedition with the Algalita Marine Research foundation to find and research this floating garbage patch which he believes could be a new habitat. He wants data on the distribution and impact of plastic in the marine ecosystem.