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A passion to clean up the Pacific Ocean's great 'garbage patch'

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The exact dimensions of the North Pacific Trash Gyre aren't known. Some say it's the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world, a huge plastic garbage patch estimated to be either the size of Texas or twice that size.

Either way, there is general agreement that there is lots of plastic out there. But it is not a solid or even semisolid mass, as might be suggested by some descriptions. Nor is there any real data on the exact volume.

"Due to the limited sample size, as well as a tendency for observing ships to explore only areas thought to concentrate debris, there is really no accurate estimate on the size or mass of the 'garbage patch' or any other concentrations of marine debris in the open ocean," according to NOAA, the US government's National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

But Crowley has all the proof she needs.

Last summer, her Project Kaisei launched a month-long expedition to the North Pacific Gyre. Its tall, majestic sailing ship, the Kaisei, was accompanied by the New Horizon, a vessel from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Given the vastness of the ocean, some of the graduate students heading the voyage for Scripps were prepared to find less debris than forecast. But after the voyage the Scripps team reported: "The plastic indeed was there in the gyre. And there was lots and lots of it."

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