LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The work is incredibly time consuming.

Researchers with the Long Beach-based nonprofit Algalita pull every tiny piece of plastic out of Pacific water samples. This helps them calculate how polluted the water is.

Some recent work says there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. Most are considered microplastics, meaning smaller than 5 millimeters.

Anika Ballent is from Long Beach and one of only four full-time employees at Algalita.

It's thinking about the next generation that keeps her going.

“It’s just inspiring, especially the youth. Young people, even young kids, that are taking this to heart and taking it seriously, and that’s really what inspires me to keep going every day,” said Ballent.

All of the Pacific water samples are collected from one catamaran. Captain Charles Moore designed the boat and has been leading month-long expeditions on it for two and a half decades.

He’s lived in the same house overlooking Alamitos Bay for 70 years. He’s now 71 years old. Moore is a lifelong sailor and self-described radical from the 60s.

He started Algalita to study urban runoff where things like lawn chemicals and sewage end up in the sea. When he came upon huge patches of plastic out in the middle of the ocean, he switched focus.

“At first, it was shock and surprise, and really wonder, and now it’s become disgust and depression and anger at our inability to stop it,” said Moore.

Now his goal is to meet politicians and get new laws on the books to stop the problem. One recent success: the polystyrene ban that passed last year in Long Beach.

“This is my habitat and I need to do something to preserve it,” said Moore.

It’s a step in the right direction, but Moore says big sweeping change has to happen if we’re going to make a dent in the problem.