• 05.23.14

Divers Map The Garbage Dump That Is Filling The World’s Oceans

What’s really in the water? Project Aware lets you see what divers find beneath the waves with their waste audits.

Divers Map The Garbage Dump That Is Filling The World’s Oceans

You may have heard how there’s a Great Garbage Patch floating in the Pacific, and that it’s the size of Texas. Many newspapers and websites have reported on it, and it sounds scary–except it isn’t really true. There is a lot of trash in the ocean, no question. But most of it is dispersed, broken down, and non-visible from a cruise ship.


To really find out what’s in the water, you have to go beneath the waves, which is what Project Aware has been doing since 2011. The nonprofit has recruited 20,000 divers in 60 countries to do waste audits, recording both the level and type of debris in their area.

Check out what the divers found in the map here. Zoom in and find dives for your locale. One dive in New Rochelle, New York, for example, turned up 94 pieces, including 37 samples of metal, and 40 samples of glass and ceramic.

As you’d expect, plastic dominates everything, because plastic is ubiquitous and cheap, and takes a long time to degrade. Of 390,000-plus total items the divers recovered, it accounts for 70%, with glass and ceramic and metal a distant second and third.

The aim of the map is to draw attention to our “throw away” lifestyle, according to Tiffany Leite, Project Aware’s associate director. “The beneath-the-waves perspective is a critical and unique. We want to shed light on the underwater view, which remains out of sight, out of mind for much of the world,” she says.

A recent survey of European waters also shed new light on ocean garbage.

For its part, Project Aware wants to work with more divers and build up a bigger data trove. “We hope to use the information for improved waste management, to target reduction methods and help push for regional, national, and international policies that help address debris issues at the source,” Leite says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.