Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastic frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments.

Analysis of ice cores from across the Arctic region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought.  Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals.

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean ( Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Rüdiger Stein )

Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study.

“Nowhere is immune.”

AWI scientist Julia Gutermann analysing an Arctic sea ice core for microplastic particles in a lab at the AWI Helgoland (Tristan Vankann)

Dr Peeken and her team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research collected ice core samples over the course of three expeditions on the research icebreaker Polarstern.  Their voyages covered five regions along the Transpolar Drift and Fram Strait, which channel sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Not only is polar sea ice acting as a store for ocean plastic that could potentially be released as global temperatures get warmer due to climate change, the movement of sea ice could be depositing microplastics in areas that were previously plastic-free.

The researchers analysed their samples using a device known as a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.  This enabled them to examine the ice cores layer by layer and in great detail, working out the origins of even the tiniest shards of plastic.

“What is interesting also is you have very localised sources – ship paint particles and cigarette butts and stuff like that,” said Dr Peeken. “We also see polyethylene, a very light polymer which is found in really high numbers particularly in the Central Arctic. We think that there is an incoming flow from the Pacific so that could show that is coming from that region.

“We see a large impact of plastic pollution coming from the urban areas – a lot is coming from the Atlantic and from the Pacific.”

In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists speculate that this polyethylene could originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre. . . .

In ice cores collected in Siberia, the predominant forms of microplastic included paint particles from ships and nylon waste from fishing nets.

Over half the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, meaning they could easily be ingested by small Arctic creatures.

“While we don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of microplastics on the health of the marine environment or humans, the growing body of evidence suggests microplastic pollution is a contaminant of environmental and economic concern,” said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.

“As microplastics can look like prey for marine animals and are small in size they may be eaten by a wide range of species, from zooplankton – small animals at the base of the food web –  to seabird and whales, potentially impacting marine ecosystems and the food chain.”

Other scientists welcomed the research as “a benchmark study” that demonstrated the extent to which plastics both big and small have covered the world.  However, given the scale of the global plastic crisis, they said its conclusions did not come as a surprise.

Professor Richard Thompson, an ocean plastic researcher at the University of Plymouth who first coined the use of the term microplastics, said this study builds on work he conducted to establish their concentration in Arctic ice.  “The study reinforces what is already clear to many marine scientists – that plastic debris is a highly persistent form of contamination that can accumulate in considerable concentrations even in remote locations far from the likely points of entry to the ocean. What is increasingly clear is the urgency with which we need to take steps to halt the flow of plastic debris to the ocean.

“A key priority in my view is interdisciplinary research focused on delivering appropriate evidence to inform industry and policy on the most appropriate solutions.”

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

April 14, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-pollution-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics-ocean-environment-a8319951.html

Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

A sperm whale was found washed ashore dead after swallowing 64 pounds of plastic debris. The male sperm whale was found on the Murcian coast in southern Spain in late February, reminding us how critical plastic waste in the oceans has become.

After investigating, the El Valle Wildlife Rescue Center determined that the sperm whale was killed by gastric shock to its stomach and intestines after ingesting 64 pounds of plastic. The autopsy found plastic bags, nets, ropes, plastic sacks, and even a plastic jerrycan in the whale’s stomach and intestines.

Experts found the inner walls of the whale’s abdomen to be inflamed due to a bacterial or fungal infection. This is likely a result of the whale unable to expel the plastics from its system, resulting in peritonitis.

The male sperm whale, an endangered species protected in the US under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, weighed over 6 tonnes and measured 33 feet long. Sperm whales typically eat squid and live around the same lifespan as humans, averaging 70 years.

As a result of the whale’s death, the Murcia government launched a campaign against dumping plastic waste into the coastal town’s water. The coastal community is working to raise awareness of the ever-growing plastic problem in the oceans and the need for beach cleaning.

 It is becoming increasingly clear that plastic in our oceans is a core threat to marine life in the decades to come.  Approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating around the world’s oceans based on a recent study. To make matters worse, marine experts believe the total weight of plastic in our oceans could outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
With an increasing amount of plastic discarded in oceans, whale deaths due to ingestion of plastics are becoming far too common… To cope with this dilemma, many countries around the world are phasing out single-use plastic bags as typically seen in grocery stores. Below is a map of where countries are in their phasing out of low-density polyethylene plastic bags.
  • Green indicates plastic bags are banned
  • Yellow indicates a tax on some plastic bags
  • Orange indicates a voluntary tax agreement
  • Purple indicates a partial tax or ban at a regional level

  Countries that are phasing out single-use plastic bags (Wikipedia)

The European Union is pushing a transition to have all plastic recyclable or reusable by 2030 with many agencies around the world discussing phasing out non-biodegradable plastics completely.

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Yet Another Dead Whale Is Grave Reminder Of Our Massive Plastic Problem

Trevor Nance, Forbes, Science, April 9, 2018

https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/09/yet-another-dead-whale-is-grave-reminder-of-our-massive-plastic-problem/#baaeb156cd23

Humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic and 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste

Most plastic waste has already made its way to landfills and oceans.

Plastic is in almost everything we use. Now researchers have calculated the staggering amount of the synthetic material humans have produced since large-scale production began in the 1950s: 8.3 billion tonnes.

More disturbing, the researchers say, is the amount of plastic waste that humans have produced. Of the 8.3 billion tonnes we’ve made since 1950, 6.3 billion of that has already become waste.

“We expected the numbers to be large, but somehow we were surprised at how large they are,” Roland Geyer, lead author of the study and associate professor in environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told CBC News.

“Even for people like me who do these kinds of material flow analyses for a living, these are enormous quantities.”

The number that shocks him the most, however, is the rapid increase in production.

“Of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of virgin plastics ever made, half was made just in the last 13 years,” Geyer said. “Between 2004 and 2015 we made as much plastic as we made between 1950 and 2004.”

Choking our ecosystems

The same team responsible for this study was behind a 2015 study that found somewhere between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic from people living within 50 kilometres of coastlines had made its way into our oceans.
“Our estimate of eight million metric tonnes going into the oceans in 2010 is equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-author of both studies, in a statement at the time. “This annual input increases each year, so our estimate for 2015 is about 9.1 million metric tons,” she said.

“In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 input, or 10 bags full of plastic per foot of coastline,” she said. “So the cumulative input by 2025 would equal 155 million metric tonnes.”

A recent study found evidence that plastic was making its way into the Arctic Ocean.

“Most humans live in temperate regions and towards equatorial regions, and yet our pollution is not staying in those kind of geographical bounds — they’re moving beyond into these remote regions,” Jennifer Provencher, a post-doctoral researcher at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., told CBC News in May.

There have been several studies on how plastic waste is harming wildlife, with a focus on sea birds.

  This albatross’s gut is full of plastic. Photo: Chris Jordan

“I’m very concerned,” Geyer said of plastic in the ocean. “But in a way I’m equally concerned with plastics in terrestrial ecosystems. We don’t even really study the effects of plastics in terrestrial ecosystems. I’m worried that there could be all kinds of unintended adverse environmental consequences.”

Plethora of packaging

“We have to be really mindful of plastics,” Geyer said. “I’m having the exact same struggle and challenges everyone else has. You come home from the supermarket and you’re just amazed at how much packaging there is together with the produce and the food.”

  Most things we buy at the supermarket come in plastic packaging (CBC)

While we may be more aware of plastic packaging, the use of plastic fibres in clothing like nylons and fleece has also grown. Between 1950 and 2015, it accounted for one billion tonnes of plastic.

The key, Geyer said, is to ask yourself if you need to buy a product with so much plastic. He notes that some companies like clothing company Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Coop are trying to reduce the amount of plastic in their products. Being mindful in your purchasing habits is key.

“It’s something as a society we collectively have to have a good think about,” Geyer said. “There’s a way to reduce and still have the same services and quality of life. And that would definitely be a simple way to address plastic waste generation; if we just make less in the first place.”

Featured image: Humans have created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, of which 6.3 billion tonnes has already become waste, a new study says. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SOURCE:

Humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, researchers say

By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News, 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/humans-produce-billions-tonnes-plastic-1.4210279

Samples collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch may be 16 times as massive than previously thought

A new study involving scientists from around the world estimates there are more than 79,000 tonnes of ocean plastic in a 1.6 million square kilometre area of the North Pacific Ocean, commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic.

The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.

79,000 tons is “the equivalent to the mass of more than 6,500 school buses.” Helen Thompson, Science News

The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre.

While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.

   

Fishing nets and ropes make up 47% of the plastic mass in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a new study suggests. Photo: NOAA  A sea turtle entangled in a ghost net. Photo by Francis Perez

“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch. “There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean. There’s clearly an increasing influx of plastic into the garbage patch.”

 

Particles smaller than half a centimeter, called microplastics, account for 94% of the pieces, but only 8% of the overall mass. In contrast, large (5 to 50 centimeters) and extra-large (bigger than 50 centimeters) pieces made up 25% and 53% of the estimated patch mass.  Much of the plastic in the patch comes from humans’ ocean activities, such as fishing and shipping, the researchers found. Almost half of the total mass, for example, is from discarded fishing nets. A lot of that litter contains especially durable plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are designed to survive in marine environments.  Helen Thompson, Science News

“We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics. The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now.”

 

. . . The problem of plastic pollution is gaining traction in diplomatic circles, with nearly 200 countries signing on to a UN resolution last year that aims to stem the flood of plastic into the oceans. However, the agreement has no timetable and is not legally binding.

Dr Clare Steele, a California-based marine ecologist who was not involved in the research, said the study provided “great progress” in understanding the composition of the Great Pacific garbage patch.

But she regretted that while removing larger items, such as ghost fishing nets, would help wildlife, the clean-up would not deal with the colossal amount of microplastic.

“Those plankton-sized pieces of plastic are pretty difficult to clean up,” she said. “The only way is to address the source and that will require a radical shift on how we use materials, particularly single-use plastic such as cutlery, straws and bottles that are so durable.

“We need to reduce waste and come up with new, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. But one of the easiest steps is changing the way we use and discard the more ephemeral plastic products.”

Cleanup efforts

And while Eriksen supports initiatives like The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, which plans to use nets to collect ocean plastic, he says that’s not a solution by itself.

“I applaud them for going after the big stuff in the middle of the ocean. That’s great,” he said. “We need to keep those nets from shredding into microplastics. But it’s disingenuous to say you’re cleaning the oceans when you’re doing nothing to stop the flow of trash at land and sea.”

Eriksen said that what’s needed is a wide-scale effort beginning at the source.

“Policy has to have [manufacturers] clean up their act,” he said. “And make smarter products and think of the full life cycle; stop making something that, when it becomes waste, becomes a nightmare for everyone.”

Both Lebreton and Eriksen would like to see less single-use plastic as well as a focus on cleaning up beaches and shores, before it makes its ways into our oceans.

“We’ve created a monster with plastic,” Lebreton said. “This [study] shows the urgency of the situation and shows that we need to act quickly.”

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 16 times bigger than previously estimated, study finds

Sample collected during 2015 expedition was mostly microplastics less than 0.5 cm in diameter

By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News, March 22, 2018

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/great-pacific-garbage-patch-1.4582626

 

Microplastics found in 93% of bottled water tested in global study

The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly $200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with microplastics, tiny particles of plastic.

“Our love affair with making single-use disposable plastics out of a material that lasts for literally centuries — that’s a disconnect, and I think we need to rethink our relationship with that,” says Prof. Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher who carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York (SUNY).

The research was conducted on behalf of Orb Media, a U.S-based non-profit journalism organization with which CBC News has partnered.

… Mason’s team tested 259 bottles of water purchased in nine countries (none were bought in Canada). Though many brands are sold internationally, the water source, manufacturing and bottling process for the same brand can differ by country.The 11 brands tested include the world’s dominant players — Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner — as well as major national brands across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Researchers found 93% of all bottles tested contained some sort of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

10.4 particles/litre on average

Microplastics (anything smaller than five millimetres in size) are the result of the breakdown of all the plastic waste that makes its way into landfills and oceans. They are also manufactured intentionally, as microbeads used in skin care products. Microbeads [in cosmetics] are now being phased out in Canada, after significant numbers began to appear in the Great Lakes and the tiny particles were found filling the stomachs of fish.

  Scientists used Nile Red fluorescent tagging, an emerging method for the rapid identification of microplastics, as the dye binds to plastic. Scientists put the dyed water through a filter and then viewed samples under a microscope. (Orb Media) 

… Orb found on average there were 10.4 particles of plastic per litre that were 100 microns (0.10 mm) or bigger. This is double the level of microplastics in the tap water tested from more than a dozen countries across five continents, examined in a 2017 study by Orb that looked at similar-sized plastics.

Other, smaller particles were also discovered — 314 of them per litre, on average — which some of the experts consulted about the Orb study believe are plastics but cannot definitively identify.

The amount of particles varied from bottle to bottle: while some contained one, others contained thousands.

The purpose of the study was to establish the presence of the plastics in bottled water.

It’s unclear what the effect of microplastics is on human health, and no previous work has established a maximum safe level of consumption. There are no rules or standards for allowable limits of microplastics in bottled water in Canada, the United States and Europe. Rules and standards for other countries from the study are not known.

Two brands — Nestle and Gerolsteiner — confirmed their own testing showed their water contained microplastics, albeit at much lower levels than what Orb Media is reporting.

The water tested was purchased in the U.S., Kenya, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Mexico and Thailand, and represented a range of brands across several continents. It was shipped to the specialized lab at SUNY in Fredonia, N.Y.

Emerging science

Plastics are present nearly everywhere and can take hundreds of years to degrade, if at all. Many types only continue to break down into smaller and smaller particles, until they are not visible to the naked eye.

Plastics have also been known to act like a sponge, and can absorb and release chemicals that could be harmful if consumed by mammals and fish.

“It’s not straightforward,” said Prof. Max Liboiron of Memorial University in St John’s. “If you’ve ever had chili or spaghetti and you put it in Tupperware, and you can’t scrub the orange colour out, that’s a manifestation of how plastics absorb oily chemicals,” says Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), which monitors plastic pollution.

The European Food Safety Authority suggests most microplastics will be excreted by the body. But the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has raised concerns about the possibility some particles could be small enough to pass into the bloodstream and organs.

It’s not clear how the plastic is getting into the bottled water — whether it’s the water source itself or the air or the manufacturing and bottling process.  “Even the simple act of opening the cap could cause plastic to be chipping off the cap,” Mason said.

  Prof. Sherri Mason carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York (SUNY), on behalf of Orb Media. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

… There are no rules or standards for allowable limits of microplastics in bottled water in Canada, the United States and Europe. Rules and standards for other countries from the study are not known.
FEATURED IMAGE:
Microplastics are the result of the breakdown of all the plastic waste that makes its way into landfills and oceans. The purpose of the study was to establish the presence of the plastics in bottled water. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)
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Microplastics found in supermarket fish, shellfish

Researchers say it’s too soon to say what impact this has on food safety

Brandie Weikle, CBC News, 

 

SEE ALSO:

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 plastic particles every year

 

This plastic bottle is one of the many items of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean along with huge amounts of microplastic

15-Year Study Indicates Huge Increase in Pacific Ocean Microplastic

Results show rapid increase in microplastic in the oceans.

Charles Moore, who first sailed the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, has returned five times over 15 years to document the concentrations of plastic in the ocean.  His results show microplastics are accumulating at a rapid rate.

In 1997, sailboat captain Charles Moore sailed from Hawaii across the Pacific Ocean, taking a shortcut to his home port of Los Angeles after a sailing race. As he cut across the then-seldom-sailed stretch of ocean – the swirling North Pacific Gyre – he came upon an enormous accumulation of plastic trash and made it famous. He helped captured the public’s imagination around the problem of marine plastic pollution by writing about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

In February, two decades after his discovery, he reported a seemingly dramatic 60-fold increase in the tiny pieces of microplastic during his 15 years of study of the now-infamous ocean area. From 1999 to 2014, he and a team of researchers regularly returned to 11 sites across this area with Algalita, the nonprofit he founded, scooping up plastic samples using a manta trawl from Moore’s research catamaran in an attempt to quantify change in plastic over time.

His findings, he said in a press conference at the American Geophysical Union’s 2018 Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon, show that the tiny pieces of microplastic floating on the surface of the North Pacific Gyre have increased from 331,809 pieces per square kilometer counted in 1999 to 19,912,037 counted in 2014. This estimate is unique as there are no long-term studies documenting microplastic concentration increases in the North Pacific Gyre. That’s because scientists need an enormous number of samples to come to any conclusion about how concentrations change over time.

     

Moore’s research ship, Alguita, returns with these samples after four months in the North Pacific Ocean. Algalita Marine Research and Education has been studying ocean plastic pollution since 1999. Long Beach, CA, USA. (Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

However, there is also plenty of uncertainty in making these kinds of estimates. The center of the North Pacific’s swirling mass of water, which holds the highest plastic concentration, appears to be shifting over time, making accurate sampling more challenging. At the meeting, Moore clicked through slides of the North Pacific Gyre, modeled by Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the University of Hawaii. The slides showed that the large gyre has a concentrated center that has shifted over time closer to the California coast.

“The gyre is not a static place and what our hypothesis is … was the amount of plastic sampled depends on how far it is from the moving center of the Garbage Patch,” Moore said. The results of his research will be published later this year.

While the North Pacific Gyre is commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” now Moore and other scientists like to describe the area instead as a soup filled with various-sized pieces of plastic debris. Although the patch is certainly enormous, its exact size is difficult to pinpoint because it is always shifting between the coasts of Hawaii and California, with a highly concentrated center that moves seasonally and over time with changing ocean conditions.

When making their calculations about the amount of plastic in the gyre, Maximenko and Hafner developed models that helped correct variability in ocean conditions due to currents, winds and waves. These factors can push plastic pieces down temporarily beneath the surface where they aren’t scooped up by researchers’ plastic trawling equipment, which only skims the ocean’s surface. Even when using these models, the amount of plastic still increased by a significant amount, Moore said.

Marcus Eriksen, marine plastic researcher and co-founder of ocean conservation organization 5 Gyres, said that while Moore’s study is an interesting analysis, he questions how accurate it could be because of how many plastic samples are needed to draw a conclusion about trends. In 2014, using the same trawl-sampling techniques as Moore, Eriksen co-authored a study estimating that globally at least 5.25 trillion plastic pieces are floating at or near the ocean’s surface – with nearly two trillion in the North Pacific Ocean alone. Moore, citing his data, believes that study’s estimates for the North Pacific numbers may be an underestimate.

“In my experience, if you sample the same spot one hour later, you’ll likely find a significant difference in plastic count and weight,” said Eriksen. “While the authors are probably correct about an increasing trend – and it is also difficult to understand the influence of the 2011 Japan tsunami event – we need more samples over time to really understand what’s going on.”

Moore acknowledges the variability in sampling for plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, and agrees on a need for more samples. But he emphasized that what’s certain is that the amount of plastic in the oceans, particularly microplastic, is increasing as humans increase their production of the material.

“Our plastic production will triple by 2050 and that’s when it’s predicted to be half-plastic, half-fish in the ocean” by weight, said Moore, citing a plastic impact estimate published by the World Economic Forum. “But we’re continuing to extract more and more fish, we’re making more and more fish sick, we’re catching more and more fish in ghost nets … so the estimate of half-plastic, half-fish by 2050 may be optimistic.”

SOURCE:

15-Year Study Indicates Huge Increase in Pacific Ocean Microplastics

By Erica Cirino, News Deeply – Oceans Deeply, February 13, 2018

 

 

The Queen Declares War on Plastic by banning plastic straws and bottles

Queen Elizabeth II is banning plastic straws and bottles across the royal estates.

The telegraph reported that the monarch is behind Buckingham Palace’s plans to phase out single-use plastics from public cafes, royal residences and staff dining rooms.  Royal caterers will instead use china plates and glasses or recyclable paper cups. Takeaway food from the Royal Collection cafes must be made of compostable or biodegradable packaging.

“Across the organization, the Royal Household is committed to reducing its environmental impact,” a palace spokesman said, according to the Telegraph.

“As part of that, we have taken a number of practical steps to cut back on the use of plastics. At all levels, there’s a strong desire to tackle this issue.”

The Queen was reportedly inspired to take action after working with famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough on a conservation documentary about wildlife in the Commonwealth.  Attenborough’s “Blue Planet II” documentary that aired last year highlighted the devastating effects of plastic on our oceans and marine life.

The Royal family is dedicated to a number of environmental causes. Last year, Prince Charles helped launch a $2 million competition to stop plastic entering  entering our oceans, which Charles described as an “escalating ecological and human disaster.”

British lawmakers are also urging for more action to fight plastic pollution. A ban on microbeads came into force in Britain last month . . . In 2015, a 5p (5 British pennies) fee was introduced on plastic carrier bags, which led to 9 billion fewer bags being used.  “It’s making a real difference,” May said of the bag fee. “We want to do the same with single use plastics.”

Many businesses in the UK are getting on board with cutting out plastics. Starbucks recently introduced a 5p disposable cup charge in 20 to 25 central London outlets to encourage customers to switch to reusable cups. And Iceland Foods, a major UK supermarket chain specializing in frozen food, announced that it will eliminate plastic packaging from its own brand of products by the end of 2023.

By Lorraine Chow, Ecowatch
February 12, 2018

Scotland plans to ban plastic straws by end of 2019

Scotland is set to become the first UK nation to ban plastic straws as part of plans to cut down on single-use plastics.  The move follows the announcement that the Scottish Government is outlawing the sale and manufacture of plastic cotton buds, one of the most prevalent waste items found on beaches.

Parts of Britain, including the remote Shetland Islands, have also set out their own plans to cut down on single-use plastics in an effort to combat pollution. . .

Businesses like Wetherspoon and Wagamama have already ended the use of plastic straws, as has Buckingham Palace after expressing a “strong desire to tackle the issue” of plastic pollution  . . .

The use of plastic straws was banned in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month, and Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham stated that ban is set to be extended to the rest of the country.  She said she wanted to see cotton buds phased out by the end of this year, and a ban on plastic straws entering into law by the end of 2019.  “I would strongly encourage the big manufacturers of straws that the writing is on the wall and they need to be thinking about alternatives now,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are committed to ending Scotland’s throwaway culture and are considering how we can reduce single-use items like plastic straws.  “There are obviously a number of legislative, financial and accessibility issues to consider when it comes to banning plastic straws, however it is our intention that we will be in a position to confirm definitive plans over the coming months.”

The Scottish Government will appoint an expert panel to advise on methods to reduce single-use items, including the introduction of charges.

Following the introduction of a 5p charge in the UK, plastic bag use has dropped by 85 per cent.

The spokesperson added that when the expert panel is established, plastic straws will be “one of their first priorities”.

Ms Cunningham said there will need to be alternatives available to replace plastic straws where necessary, and noted the speed of the process would be accelerated if there were no plastic straw manufacturers in Scotland. . .

Ms Cunningham said that while it was not as simple as producing “a long list” of plastic products to ban, she would like to expand restrictions to other forms of plastic that commonly pollute the environment.  “I would hope to have, by the end of this parliament, more than just plastic cotton buds and straws done,” she said. “It’s a continuing process.”

 

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

February 12, 2018

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/scotland-plastic-straw-ban-pollution-2019-cotton-buds-a8206636.html?fbclid=IwAR1PboD-4B5zUfBzD6qyrm16q_k8sEHhG9M6Fn5a6m-XowVA6zuH4ZBQRG8

 

Microplastics ‘pose major threat’ to whales and sharks, scientists warn

The oceans’ largest creatures are eating large quantities of plastic fragments and other microplastics, exposing them to toxic chemicals.

Even the largest marine creatures are vulnerable to tiny fragments of plastic littering the world’s oceans. A new study has found whales and whale sharks – the largest fish in the world – are ingesting microplastics in alarming quantities.

These creatures are filter feeders, meaning they consume large quantities of small prey by straining them out of the ocean water.  In the process, they swallow hundreds to thousands of cubic metres of water daily, meaning there is the potential for them to take in substantial amounts of microplastic floating in the water.

 Whale sharks are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day, according to new research
 Whale sharks are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day, according to new research ( Getty )

“Our studies on whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and on fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea confirmed exposure to toxic chemicals, indicating that these filter feeders are taking up microplastics in their feeding grounds,” said Professor Maria Cristina Fossi of the University of Siena.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. Some microplastics are manufactured, such as the microbeads added to health and beauty products, while others are the result of larger plastics gradually breaking down.  These plastics are pervasive in marine environments, and they are known to harbour toxic substances such as heavy metals and phthalates.

Since many animals are known to eat microplastics, scientists are concerned about the toxic substances contained within them, as well as their capacity to accumulate within the animals and stop them from absorbing nutrients correctly. “Exposure to these plastic-associated toxins pose a major threat to the health of these animals since it can alter the hormones, which regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive functions, among other things,” said Professor Fossi.

The study was published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

. . . While scientists agree that plastic pollution is a problem for marine animals, there is still a lot they do not know about the magnitude of its impact.

“Despite the growing research on microplastics in the marine environment, there are only few studies that examine the effects on large filter feeders,” said Elitza Germanov, a researcher at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and lead author of the study.

Assessing plastic in the diets of large animals such as whales and whale sharks is difficult, as it relies on analysis of stomach contents. However, by taking tissue samples from living animals, the scientists were able to test for the presence of toxic chemicals from microplastics in their bodies.

The researchers also estimated the numbers of plastic fragments being ingested daily by whales and whale sharks. While they thought whale sharks were likely eating nearly 200 items per day, the fin whales’ plastic consumption numbered in the thousands.

Many giant filter feeders are already listed as endangered, and often their feeding grounds overlap with some of the world’s worst pollution hotspots.

“It has become clear though that microplastic contamination has the potential to further reduce the population numbers of these species, many of which are long-lived and have few offspring throughout their lives,” said Ms Germanov.

 

By Josh Gabbatis, Science Correspondent, The Independent

February 5, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/microplastics-ocean-pollution-whales-sharks-threat-plastic-coffee-cups-microbeads-a8194131.html

A third of coral reefs entangled with plastic

Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, say scientists.

More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region.

This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025.

Plastic raises by 20-fold the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs, according to research. Plastic bags, bottles and rice sacks were among the items found.

“Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change,” said Dr Joleah Lamb of Cornell University in Ithaca, US.

“It’s sad how many pieces of plastic there are in the coral reefs …if we can start targeting those big polluters of plastic, hopefully we can start reducing the amount that is going on to these reefs.”

  

Infected coral snagged in plastic. Photo: Joleah Lamb.  Plastic floating over corals. Photo: Kathryn Berry

Precious resource

More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural importance.

It’s thought that plastic allows diseases that prey on the marine invertebrates that make-up coral reefs to flourish. Branching or finger-like forms of corals are most likely to get entangled in plastic debris.

These are important habitats for fish and fisheries, the scientists say.

“A lot of times we come across big rice sacks or draping plastic bags,” said Dr Lamb, who led the study.

“What we do find is these corals with a lot of complexity like branches and finger-like corals will become eight times more likely to be entangled in these types of plastics.”

In the study, published in the journal Science, international researchers surveyed more than 150 reefs from four countries in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014.

Plastic was found on one-third of the coral reefs surveyed. Reefs near Indonesia were loaded with most plastic, while Australian reefs showed the lowest concentration. Thailand and Myanmar were in the middle.

“The country’s estimated amount of mismanaged plastics – so the way they deal with their plastic waste – was a strong predictor of how much we would see on the reef,” said Dr Lamb.

  Plastic debris on the beach in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Joleah Lamb

Coral reefs face many threats. Coral bleaching is caused by unusually warm water. Coral polyps loose algae from their tissues, which drains them of their colour. They may recover if temperature changes are reversed in a reasonably short time, but this process can take many years.

In the case of diseases, organisms attack coral, leading to likely death. Previous research has found that plastic debris can stress coral through blocking out light and oxygen, thereby giving pathogens a chance to take hold.

Based on projections of plastic waste going into the ocean, the researchers suggest that the number of plastic items snagged on Asia-Pacific corals may increase from 11.1 billion to 15.7 billion plastic items by 2025.

An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean in a single year.

More than three-quarters of this plastic is thought to originate on land.

Featured image: Plastic bottle wedged in the coral reef. Photo: Kathryn Berry

A third of coral reefs ‘entangled with plastic’

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-42821004

 

EU declares war on plastic waste, in particular single-use plastics

Brussels targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up plan that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030.

The EU is waging war against plastic waste as part of an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, Brussels on Tuesday launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe, potentially tax damaging behaviour, and modernise plastics production and collection by investing €350m (£310m) in research.

Speaking to the Guardian and four other European newspapers, the vice-president of the commission, Frans Timmermans, said Brussels’ priority was to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”.

In the EU’s sights, Timmermans said, were throw-away items such as drinking straws, “lively coloured” bottles that do not degrade, coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging.

The former Dutch diplomat told the Guardian: “If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans … we have all the seen the images, whether you watch [the BBC’s] Blue Planet, whether you watch the beaches in Asian countries after storms.

“If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all.

“We are going to choke on plastic if we don’t do anything about this. How many millions of straws do we use every day across Europe? I would have people not use plastic straws any more. It only took me once to explain to my children. And now … they go looking for paper straws, or don’t use straws at all. It is an issue of mentality.”

He added: “[One] of the challenges we face is to explain to consumers that arguably some of the options in terms of the colour of bottles you can buy will be more limited than before. But I am sure that if people understand that you can’t buy that lively green bottle, it will have a different colour, but it can be recycled, people will buy into this.”

Plastic waste on the shore of the Thames Estuary in Cliffe, Kent. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

. . . The EU wants 55% of all plastic to be recycled by 2030 and for member states to reduce the use of bags per person from 90 a year to 40 by 2026.

An additional €100m is being made available on top of current spending to research better designs, durability and recyclability and EU member states will be put under an obligation to “monitor and reduce their marine litter”.

The commission said it will promote easy access to tap water on the streets of Europe to reduce demand for bottled water, and they will provide member states with additional guidance on how to improve the sorting and collection of recyclable plastic by consumers.

The EU’s executive is also to propose new clearer labelling for plastic packaging so consumers are clear about their recyclability, and there are plans to ban the addition of microplastics to cosmetics and personal care products, a move that has already been taken by the UK government.

New port reception facilities will seek to streamline waste management to ensure less gets dumped in the oceans under a directive already published.

“More and more it is becoming a health problem because it is degrading, going to little chips, fish are eating it and it is coming back to our dinner table,” said European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen on Tuesday.

. . . Every year, Europeans generate 25m tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Across the world, plastics make up 85% of beach litter.

Featured image: A Risso’s dolphin entangled in a fishing line and plastic bags in Sri Lanka. Brussels’ plan includes investing €350m in research to modernise plastics production and collection. Photograph: Andrew Sutton/eco2.com/Central Studio

SEE FULL ARTICLE at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/16/eu-declares-war-on-plastic-waste-2030

 

When you land in Rwanda, your luggage is checked for plastic bags.

When you land in Rwanda, your luggage is checked, not for guns or drugs, but for plastic bags. Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008. Ordinary citizens had little problem with this ban, but industry complained. In time every understood that Rwanda gained more from banning plastic bags rather than keeping them.

10 years free from plastic bags. Read more: http://bit.ly/2FfhZMV

How Much Plastic do Seabirds Eat?

90% of seabirds now have plastic in their stomachs. Unless we drastically reduce the flow of plastic entering the ocean, by 2050, 99% of seabirds will have plastic in them.  For example. plastic debris can make up to 15% of a Shearwater’s body weight. For an 80 km human, that would be 12 kg. Imagine carrying 12 kg of plastic in your stomach!

“That straw you used for one drink, the spoon you used to stir your coffee, and then threw in the trash… will be around as long as the Roman coliseum has been standing. From the time Jesus Christ died, until this moment, is the time span that your “disposable” item will be polluting he earth. Is the 30 seconds of use it worth it? Just THINK ABOUT stuff before you go to grab it. Ask yourself, do I need to use this, or can I skip it this time?” Michelle Miller

 

Scientist appalled by Newfoundland’s underwater trash problem

Pottery, plastics and pedal bikes are just some of the underwater trash found by researchers.

A research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been surveying what lies beneath the calm waters of harbours in Newfoundland. It isn’t pretty.

While there is debris with historical value, such as clay pottery and containers from European vessels visiting during the summer months, there is a much larger amount of trash.  It’s the more recent garbage found in our coastal environment that has Corey Morris concerned.

Barbecues and bikes

“It’s shocking,” said Morris, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Ocean Science at Memorial University.

“Some places it’s near impossible to see the natural bottom because its covered in so much debris.”

“Many of the new garbage contains plastic. We’re seeing vinyl siding, windows, carpet, flooring. We see household items such as fridges, stoves, washers — barbecues are very common in harbours around Newfoundland — tools [and] table saws,” he told CBC Radio’s the Broadcast.

   

Corey Morris says his most surprising find was this clothes dryer. When he opened the door he found work clothes and boots still inside. Household items and building materials were often found sitting on harbour floors. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

“And the number of pedal bikes are just incredible in our harbours for some reason.”

The purpose of the survey, conducted from 2007 to 2016, was to study the effects of harbour infrastructure on fish and fish habitat.

But over the course of almost a decade, it was the amount of underwater trash steadily accumulating that really stood out.

The researchers monitored 20 locations over the course of the survey, from the tip of the Northern Peninsula to the Southern Shore of the Avalon.

Every year they found new evidence of dumping — lawn chairs, fish trapped in discarded fishing gear, bags of garbage, clothing and rubber tires.

  A sculpin trapped in discarded fishing gear. Morris says the number of fish, both dead and alive, tangled in old gear was the most disturbing discovery. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

Widespread problem

Morris didn’t want to identify the harbours surveyed because, he said, it’s a widespread issue and not specific to any particular part of the province.

“Everywhere you go you’ve got the same problem. You can go in any harbour from one end of the province to the other and once you go down underwater, everything looks the same.”

Harbours without wharves were much cleaner, he said. But even in communities with newer wharves, the researchers saw debris appearing year after year.

“That’s what really raised my concern,” he said. “This is still happening. This is still an issue. Like, what are we doing?” …

Featured image: Beverage containers cover the floor of a harbour in Newfoundland. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

 

READ FULL ARTICLE:  What’s in your harbour? Scientist appalled by Newfoundland’s underwater trash problem

By Maggie Gillis, CBC News, 

November 21, 2017

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/harbour-garbage-newfoundland-1.4412203

 

Even Sea Creatures in the Deepest, Darkest Trenches have ingested Plastic

Plastic is probably everywhere in your life—but according to new research conducted in the very deepest parts of the ocean, that’s true even for the most remote tiny seafloor critters living almost 7 miles below the surface as well.

The tests, which were done on small shellfish found in deep-sea trenches across the Pacific Ocean, haven’t been published in a scientific journal yet and were conducted under the auspices of Sky Ocean Rescue, an anti-plastic pollution campaign run by a European media company. But this sort of finding has been expected for quite a while.

“These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris,” lead researcher Alan Jamieson, a senior lecturer in marine ecology at Newcastle University, in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.

Jamieson and his colleagues had already determined that these deep-sea trenches are full of plastic. But they also wanted to know how animals in that environment were interacting with the pollution that surrounds them. So they sent underwater robots down into trenches across the Pacific Ocean to collect small shellfish, which they brought back up to the surface so they could look inside their stomachs.

And those examinations were not pretty, to say the least. “The results were both immediate and startling,” Jamieson said in the press release. “There were instances where the fibers could actually be seen in the stomach contents as they were being removed.”

All told, they gathered 90 critters out of trenches ranging from 4 to 7 miles deep. More than half the animals from every single spot had plastic inside of them. This spanned a whole range of types of plastic, including textile materials like rayon and nylon, and harder plastics like polyvinyls.

According to calculations scientists published earlier this year, humans have produced a whopping 9 billion tons of plastic since figuring out how to make it in the first place. Most of that plastic has been discarded, and about 300 million tons of it have ended up in the ocean.

Once plastic reaches the ocean, it can gradually sink down to the seafloor, be carried around the globe by currents, and break down into infinitesimally small pieces. But it never actually disappears—it just lurks in the environment, waiting for scientists to come looking for it.

By Meghan Bartels, Newsweek, November 16, 2017

OCEAN POLLUTION: EVEN SEA CREATURES IN THE DEEPEST, DARKEST TRENCHES ARE FULL OF PLASTIC

http://www.newsweek.com/ocean-plastic-pollution-being-eaten-even-deepest-sea-creatures-712725