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World’s oceans filled with “microplastic”: study


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December 14, 2014 by Canadian Plastics

So-called “microplastic” makes up the vast bulk of plastic litter in the world’s oceans, a new study has concluded.

According to research firm 5 Gyres Institute, ninety-two percent of the plastic debris in the oceans are tiny particles from larger items made brittle by sunlight and pounded to pieces by waves, bitten by sharks and other fish, or otherwise torn apart,

The research – described as the most scientifically rigorous estimate to date of the amount of plastic litter in the oceans, and based on data from 24 ship expeditions around the globe over six years– estimated that there is about 269,000 tons of plastic material afloat globally.

“There’s much more plastic pollution out there than recent estimates suggest,” said Marcus Eriksen, research director for the Los Angeles-based 5 Gyres Institute. “It’s everything you can imagine made of plastic…like Walmart or Target set afloat.”

Ninety-two percent of the plastic comes in the form of “microplastic” – particles from larger items made brittle by sunlight and pounded to pieces by waves, bitten by sharks and other fish or otherwise torn apart, Eriksen said.

The researchers said plastic litter enters the oceans from rivers and heavily populated coastal regions as well as from vessels navigating shipping lanes.

Larger plastic objects, abundant near coastlines, often float into the world’s five subtropical gyres – big regions of spinning currents in the North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. In the middle of these gyres, plastic trash has accumulated into huge “garbage patches” that act as “giant blenders – shredders that eviscerate plastic from large pieces to microplastics,” Eriksen said.

The study, based on data from expeditions to all five subtropical gyres, coastal Australia, the Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea, estimated that there are 5.25 trillion particles of plastic litter. Tiny plastic particles, down to the size of a sand grain, have fanned out through the oceans and reach even remote polar regions.