Marine scientists from California are venturing out into the Pacific to find out more about the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

A research vessel carrying a team of about 30 researchers, technicians and crew members embarked on Sunday on a three-week voyage from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego.

Marine scientists from California are venturing out into the Pacific to find out more about the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

A research vessel carrying a team of about 30 researchers, technicians and crew members embarked on Sunday on a three-week voyage from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego.

The expedition will study how much debris, mostly tiny plastic fragments, is collecting in an expanse of sea known as the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, how that material is distributed and how it affects marine life.

The debris ends up concentrated by circular, clockwise ocean currents within an oblong-shaped "convergence zone" hundreds of miles (km) across from end to end near the Hawaiian Islands, about midway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States.

The focus of the study will be on plankton, other microorganisms, small fish and birds.

Large items readily visible from the deck of a boat are few and far between. Most of the debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the water surface, making it impossible to detect by aircraft or satellite images.

Besides the potential harm to sea life caused by ingesting bits of plastic, the expedition team will look at whether the particles could carry other pollutants, such as pesticides, far out to sea, and whether tiny organisms attached to the debris could be transported to distant regions and thus become invasive species.

German and American marine scientists have also recently returned from similar reseach carried out on the Atlantic garbage patch. The size of the Atlantic garbage patch is still unknown and further research is needed in both the Atlantic and Pacific ocean to measure the effects of the problem.

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