Saturday, January 20, 2018
Close  
  • share this

Plastic junk floating widely in world’s oceans

/ 08:55 AM July 01, 2014
Ocean Plastic

This Aug. 11, 2009 file image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows a patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. A study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, June 30, 2014, estimated the total amount of floating plastic debris in open ocean at 7,000 to 35,000 tons. The results of the study showed fewer very small pieces than expected. AP

• But there’s less than expected 

• Study does not include plastic beneath ocean surface

NEW YORK — Plastic junk is floating widely on the world’s oceans, but there’s less of it than expected, a study says.

ADVERTISEMENT

Such ocean pollution has drawn attention in recent years because of its potential harm to fish and other wildlife.

The new work drew on results from an around-the-world cruise by a research ship that towed a mesh net at 141 sites, as well as other studies. Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic debris in open ocean at 7,000 to 35,000 tons.

Andres Cozar of the University of Cadiz in Spain, an author of the study, said that’s a lot less than the 1 million tons he had extrapolated from data reaching back to the 1970s.

The new estimate includes only floating debris, not plastic that may reside beneath the surface or on the ocean floor.

Some floating pieces start out small, like the microbeads found in some toothpastes and cosmetics or industrial pellets used to make plastic products. Other small pieces can result when wave action breaks up larger objects, like bottle caps, detergent bottles and shopping bags.

The net turned up fewer small pieces than expected, and it will be important to figure out why, researchers said. Perhaps the tiniest pieces are being eaten by small fish, with uncertain effects on their health, Cozar said in an email.

While the research showed plastic to be distributed widely, concentrations were highest in five areas that were predicted by ocean current patterns. They are west of the U.S., between the U.S. and Africa, west of southern South America and east and west of the southern tip of Africa.

Plastic debris from land reaches the ocean mostly through storm water runoff, the researchers said in their report, released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kara Lavender Law, who studies plastic pollution at the Sea Education Association in Massachusetts, said the study provides the first global estimate she knows of for floating plastic debris.

“We are putting, certainly by any estimate, a large amount of a synthetic material into a natural environment,” said Law, who didn’t participate in the new work. “We’re fundamentally changing the composition of the ocean.”

The impact on fish and birds is hard to gauge because scientists don’t understand things like how much plastic animals encounter and how they might be harmed if they swallow it, she said.

Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Andres Cozar of the University of Cadiz in Spain, microbeads, National Academy of Sciences, plastic pollution of seas, Sea Education Association
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.




© Copyright 1997-2016 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved