In a 2014 study, it was estimated that AT LEAST 5.25 TRILLION PLASTIC PIECES, WEIGHING 269,000 METRIC TONS ARE CURRENTLY FLOATING AT SEA and that:
- 92% is comprised of small fragments (0.33-4.75 mm).
- Of larger items (>200mm), foamed polystyrene items were the most frequently observed.
- During fragmentation plastics are lost from the sea surface.
This does not include the massive amount of plastic that sinks (extremely difficult to determine because of the huge depths of the ocean), washes up on beaches and seashores, or has been ingested by organisms.
Scientists from the nonprofit advocacy group 5 Gyres published their findings this week in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE. The researchers collected plastic from parts of the ocean with nets and then used computer models to estimate the extent of the garbage problem worldwide.
They estimated that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, is distributed across the ocean. While that’s a lot of trash, researchers found only one-hundredth as many sand-size particles as their models had predicted.
Small plastic pieces have been a matter of much debate in recent months, because they are ingested by animals and can cause the death of fish, birds, and other creatures.
The new particles estimate is similar to that in a paper published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That study found only 35,000 tons of small plastic particles, while the researchers had expected to find millions of tons. Where all the plastic is going in the ocean is a mystery, the lead scientist of the July study, Andres Cozar Cabañas, told National Geographic then.
Plastic production has quadrupled since the 1980s, and wind, waves, and sun break all that plastic into tiny bits. “We don’t know what this plastic is doing,” Cozar said. “The plastic is somewhere—in the ocean life, in the depths, or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”
The 5 Gyres researchers noted on Wednesday that the plastic may be washing up on beaches or sinking down to the bottom quicker than expected. They also suspected “UV degradation, biodegradation, ingestion by organisms, [and] decreased buoyancy due to fouling organisms.”
The scientists discovered that the amount of plastic was similar in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, which they found surprising “given that inputs are substantially higher in the northern than in the southern hemisphere,” they wrote in the study. It suggests plastic may be moving around more easily than people previously thought, the researchers said.
Scientists have already noted that plastic in the ocean poses hazards to wildlife, from sea turtles to fish to corals.
Feature Photo: Coastal pollution, viewed from underwater, in Philippines. Photograph Jurgen Freund,Corbis
READ FULL ARTICLE:
Weighing over 5 Trillion Pieces of Ocean Trash Found, But Fewer Particles Than Expected
Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea
Marcus Eriksen , Laurent C. M. Lebreton, Henry S. Carson, Martin Thiel, Charles J. Moore, Jose C. Borerro, Francois Galgani, Peter G. Ryan, Julia Reisser
Published: December 10, 2014, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111913
First of Its Kind Map Reveals Extent of Ocean Plastic