In its January 2016 report, the World Economic Forum stated that 'the best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans today'. In addition, it was stated that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is forecast to grow to 250 million tonnes in 2025.
Around the world, plastic pollution has become a growing plague, clogging our waterways,damaging marine ecosystems, and entering the marine food web. Much of the plastic trash we generate on land flows into our oceans through storm drains and watersheds. It falls from garbage and container trucks, spills out of trashcans, or is tossed carelessly.
In the ocean, some of these plastics- Polycarbonate and PETE- sink, while LDPE, HDPE, Polypropylene, and foamed plastics float on the ocean’s surface. Sunlight and wave action cause these floating plastics to fragment, breaking into increasingly smaller particles, but never completely disappearing- at least on any documented time scale.
Our oceans are dynamic systems, made up of complex networks of currents that circulate water around the world.
Large systems of these currents, coupled with wind and the earth’s rotation, create “gyres”, massive, slow rotating whirlpools in which plastic trash can accumulate.
The North Pacific Gyre, the most heavily researched for plastic pollution, spans an area roughly twice the size of the USA – though it is a fluid system, shifting seasonally in size and shape. Designed to last, plastic trash in the gyre will remain for decades or longer, being pushed gently in a slow, clockwise spiral towards the centre.
Most of the research on plastic trash circulating in oceanic gyres has focused on the North Pacific, but there are 5 major oceanic gyres worldwide, with several smaller gyres in Alaska and Antarctica. Marine researchers are still studying the extent to which plastic pollution exists in the world’s oceans
Links to articles, reports and video:
Plastic fibres from clothing in our seafood:
Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic...:
More evidence that plankton are eating micro plastic
More plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050:
Pharrell Williams - The Plastic Age
Documentary - Plastic In Our Oceans
Tim Silverwood - How did our lives become so plastic:
A Global Inventory of Small Floating Plastics (scientific report)
Plastic in plankton:
Chemicals from plastic packaging in frozen foods:
The myth about biodegradeable plastic bags
The Story of Stuff - Solutions:
Plastic ingestion by sea birds:
Australian senate report into marine plastic:
Plastic from fleece clothing a major contributor to ocean pollution:
Plastic production rises - recycling lags:
Sailor, Ivan MacFadyen - The Ocean Is Broken:
Whale swallows over 59 different types of plastic:
Chemicals from plastic in your seafood:
Fisherman finds plastic bottle inside huge cod:
As more plastic pollution flows from our watersheds to the sea, scientists are finding that plastic debris is accumulating in the each of the 5 oceanic gyres. Research conducted by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation highlighted the “Pacific Garbage Patch”, – an area of plastic accumulation in the North Pacific between California and Hawaii. Surveyed again in 2015, it was found to be bigger than the state of Queensland (twice as big as Texas). Studies by the Sea Education Association, (SEA), in the Atlantic have documented plastic pollution in the North Atlantic Gyre. As plastic particles circulate through oceans, they act as sponges for waterborne contaminants such as PCBs, DDT and other pesticides, PAHs and many hydrocarbons washed through our watersheds.
These persistent organic pollutants, called “POPs”, absorb onto plastic pollution in high concentrations. Plastic pollution is not a benign material in the ocean. Scientists are studying whether these POPs transfer to the marine organisms that mistakenly consume them.
90% of all seabird species, 22% of large marine mammals (Cetaceans), all sea turtle species, and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. When marine animals consume plastic trash, presumably mistaking it for food, this can lead to internal blockages, dehydration, starvation, and potential death.
Also of deep concern for societies are the potential human health impacts of toxic chemicals entering the marine food chain through plastics. Science is beginning to ask the question: