Christopher Furlong

Authorities recently confirmed that plane debris that washed up on the shore of Réunion belongs to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March of last year. The discovery, which marks the end of several fruitless months of searching, has raised the hopes of finding more remains of the plane, offering closure—and, possibly, answers—to grieving families.

That might be difficult. More debris, found in the Maldives, was said today to be unrelated to MH370. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai was part of a team sent to investigate the new material, and said that the trash found on the Maldives wasn't even "plane material." There's a lot of trash in the ocean. A lot.

In a report, The Associated Press reminds us just how much garbage is floating in our oceans in giant clusters like the Great Pacific garbage patch…

…and spread throughout the waters:

But do not, [oceanographer Erik] van Sebille warns, picture masses of garbage floating on the surface of the water. 'These are not islands of trash. There are no big pieces that you can stand on, even in the garbage patches,' he said. Instead, those millions of tons of plastic quickly disappear from view, reduced to a near-invisible cloud that floats just beneath the surface.


One long-standing example of the persistent plastic problem stems from several containers of Legos that went overboard when the Tokio Express, a container ship, was struck by a massive wave back in 1997. The waterlogged toys are still washing up on beaches. The Facebook page Legos Lost At Sea showcases images of the trashy treasures:


The ocean's trash problem—a February study found that nearly nine million tons of plastic wind up in the ocean each year—has people scrambling for solutions, from working to develop biodegradable plastics to plopping a huge, floating barrier in the ocean to stop and collect floating plastic.

But according to a recent study, clearing the ocean of debris would still leave us with another problem: Acidification.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research writes that one option considered for battling climate change—carbon dioxide removal, or CDR—still won't save our oceans from the acidification that's resulted from greenhouse gas emissions. Report coauthor John Schnellnhuber explained that even if CDR was able to heal the Earth, "in the deep ocean, the chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollution will reverberate for thousands of years." Bleak.


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.