The world’s oceans are laden with more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic pollutants that are estimated to weigh around 269,000 tons. Scientists said it was the “most scientifically rigorous estimate” of the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans. A team of researchers led by Marcus Eriksen of the Five Gyres Institute studied global plastic pollution for six long years between 2007 and 2013. Findings of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Micro-plastic interacts with the entire ocean ecosystem
The garbage patches are spread throughout all the world’s oceans. They are as much in the northern hemisphere as in the southern, which was quite surprising as more plastic originates in the north. Eriksen said that their estimates were “highly conservative” as they didn’t take into account the huge amount that is no longer afloat.
He said that the garbage patches in the middle of the world’s five subtropic gyres were not the “final resting places” for the floating plastic trash. Micro-plastic interacts with the entire ocean ecosystem. Bigger fish eat the smaller fish and other marine animals that consumed plastic. And they end up on our plates. Scientists sought to improve on their prior estimate.
Data from 24 expeditions
So, they compiled data from 24 expeditions across the globe, including the Mediterranean Sea, Bay of Bengal and coastal Australia. They relied on visual surveys for larger coastal debris and used nets to collect micro-plastics. Researchers found that larger plastic debris were abundant near coastlines. But they get churned into micro-particles further from shore. Larger objects mostly float into the five subtropical gyres in the north and south Atlantic, north and south Pacific, and the Indian oceans.
According to the trade body Plastics Europe, a whopping 288 million tons of plastic were produced globally in 2012. Eriksen said that the gyres shred up large plastic items into small particles that can easily spread across the oceans.