The giant rubbish collection, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” lies between California and Hawaii and has been gradually growing over the last 60 years.
It contains everything from plastic bags to shampoo bottles, flip-flops, children’s toys, tyres, drink cans, Frisbees and plastic swimming pools.
Older debris has been slowly broken down by the sun’s rays into small particles which settle and are suspended just below the ocean surface.
The soupy water is heavy with toxic chemicals and the broken down plastic particles are now turning up inside fish.
Up to 26 pieces of plastic were recently found inside a single fish and researchers have warned that they will work their way into the human food chain.
Beginning 500 miles off the California coast the affected area, also known as the “plastic vortex,” now constitutes the world’s largest heap of rubbish. The amount of debris is estimated at up to 100 million tons.
Volunteers from Project Kaisei, a conservation project based in San Francisco and Hong Kong, hope to tackle the spread of rubbish this summer.
The group plans to send two ships into the area to take samples for a study on the feasibility of converting the waste into fuel.
Doug Woodring, a member of the team, compared visiting the area to “going into outer space.”
He said: “This is the ‘quiet zone’ in terms of human activity because there is no one out here working, polluting, or wasting things – yet we have still managed to leave our mark in the form of debris.”
Richard Pain, an Australian filmmaker who plans to cross the area in a craft made of plastic bottles to raise awareness of the problem, said: “To the eye as you look across it, it undulates like regular ocean. But when you look down into it, it’s just plastic everywhere. It’s like soupy ocean.”
The area is one of the world’s five major ocean gyres – huge systems of rotating currents which draw in waste from thousands of miles away.
Many of the plastic items floating there have Chinese and Japanese writing on, showing how far they have drifted on the currents.