5 Gyres Institute

Founding Year:

Staff: 8

Budget: $800K/yr

Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen ( Co-founders)

5 Gyres runs expeditions to explore plastic pollution in oceanic gyres. A gyre is a large-scale system of wind-driven surface currents in the ocean. The gyres referred to in the name of our organization are the five main subtropical gyres — located in the North and South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean — which are massive, circular current systems. The accumulation zones of plastic that form in the five subtropical gyres are a result of the diminished winds and currents occurring at latitudes synonymous with continental deserts. Basically, plastic is trapped within these currents, taking at least 10 years to cycle back out — if it doesn’t first get eaten by marine life or sink to the bottom.

5 Gyres’ research indicates that plastic is like an oceanic smog. In 2014, 5 Gyres published the Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution, determining that there were 269,000 metric tons and 5.25 trillion plastic particles on the ocean’s surface. The 2017 United Nations Clean Seas Campaign estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean today, 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy. In the ocean, ultraviolet light makes plastic brittle and wave action crushes it, breaking it down into microplastics; pieces smaller than a grain of rice. If not consumed by marine life, these fragments slowly settle to the sea floor. The ubiquity of these plastic particles makes them a type of “smog,” described in detail in 5 Gyres’ 2016  “Smog of the Sea” documentary .


5 Gyres Institute contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  Organization Type

  Geographic Foci


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