"These are various buoys, along with Styrofoam, netting and just a bunch of junk," said chief scientist Emelia DeForce, pointing to a pile of debris and plastic on the research vessel the SSV Robert Seaman.
From tiny fragments, to big black buoys and even food from a fridge floating in the open ocean, the team of students and researchers just returned from a 39 day expedition from San Diego to Hawaii to explore a problem so vast, so bad:
"There really is no feasible way to clean up the plastic that is already out there. When you put a net in water and pick up plastic you're also picking up natural organisms that are living there," said DeForce.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an expanse of large and small plastic, that's now a constantly floating, ever growing ecosystem created by us.
"What I am trying to do is educate," she said.
In just one nautical mile, they found 70,000 pieces of plastic, occasionally big stuff, but mainly the tiny stuff most people can't even see.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," said HPU masters student Zora McGinnis, who spent hours counting plastic, documenting debris, and building a case for better awareness.
"It's pretty distressing. Every single piece of plastic out there we put there. This is not a phenomenon. This is our trash. People need to think about that," she said.
The team will be dispersing their findings to research departments nationwide, and documenting their work, to hopefully spur a bigger movement away from the stuff that's filling our oceans.
"What we saw is just a fraction of what is out there," she said.