Gary Froyland and two of his colleagues believe they may have figured it out and published their paper in Chaos earlier this week, a peer-reviewed journal. It their paper, they explain a new mathematical model as to whom is responsible for all this plastic that floats through the ocean until it kills birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life.

Pacific Ocean Plastic Polluters

Their model shows that this plastic pollution and other pollution can cross the five gyres, or boundaries of the ocean. Gyres are large circular currents that trap floating debris.

Plastic pollution: Splitting the ocean in regions

“The breaking of the geographic ocean boundaries should shift the way people think of where oceans begin and end,” modeler and mathematician Gary Froyland told NBC News. “The interactions that we’ve shown between the different oceans shows that no ocean is isolated and that local effects can have impacts far from the source.”

Their work is not so much knew just a more specific model built on an online tool (adrift.org.au) that shows how plastic travels in the ocean.

In order to complete their studies, the researchers first divided the Pacific into seven areas whose waters generally don’t mix. By doing so they found that a few of these regions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans are more closely related to the south Atlantic.

A follow-up study will look at how porous those boundaries are. “We first wanted to see where the boundaries are, the next step is to study the amount of plastic crossing these boundaries,” said Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer with the team.

Tool is meant to help others in their work

Researchers not involved in the project found the merits in their study and immediately explained how the researchers findings could help with their work.

“I could imagine using their model to generate hypotheses about the likely source regions of debris in each of the ‘garbage patches’ that could be tested with on-the-ground sampling in these coastal regions,” said Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer with the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass.

“We already know that once debris leaves a harbor or coastline it is fairly quickly carried to the open ocean to these subtropical accumulation zones,” she adds, “but what we might not have guessed is that debris in the accumulation zones may have originated from the next ocean basin over.”