Update 6/4/08 – No, the feds are not actually studying the Gyre.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is going to start studying the North Pacific Trash Gyre. Until now, much of the evidence for the Gyre has come from the work of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Charles Moore, a retired woodworking magnate who has taken up the gyre as his life’s work. Moore generally describes the gyre has a vast soup of tiny bits of plastic floating anywhere from 3 inches to 300 feet below the surface and taking up an area twice the size of Texas (The Oyster’s Garter has described the gyre before).
The gyre doesn’t really show up on satellite since it’s mostly plastic and mostly underwater. However, NOAA will use boat-launched unmanned planes to skim the water and take samples. The director of NOAA’s Marine Debris program, Holly Bamford, told the Chronicle she doesn’t dispute the existence of the gyre, but she wants to know how big it really is, and check it’s density. However, she says the research is only the planning stages – it could be 18 months before boat-launched planes are in the air. But Bamford sounds optimistic in the article. She actually mentions the idea of cleaning it up.
“But before we embark on a huge removal process,” Bamford told the Chronicle, “we need to understand what we’re dealing with.”