Unknown impact So what exactly is happening to the debris?
One possibility is that it is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles, whose impact on the ocean is unknown. Another possibility is that it is being carried into the deep ocean.
Whether that's good or bad isn't clear.
Less trash at the surface may mean less wildlife comes into contact with plastic.
"The plastic pollution in surface waters can more easily interact with the ocean life, because the surface layer of the ocean hosts most of the marine organisms," Cózar said.
On the other hand, small fish - particularly lanternfishes - may be eating some of these small plastic pieces, dubbed microplastics, and breaking them down even more. Because small fish are the ecological link between plankton and small vertebrates, and because commercial fish such as swordfish and tuna eat these small fish, it's important to understand whether the absorption of toxins from the plastic will impact these animals' health, he said.
The findings were published today (June 30) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.