First-of-its-Kind Map Details Extent of Plastic in Five Ocean Gyres
When a research team set sail on a nine-month, worldwide expedition in 2010 to study the impact of global warming on Earth's oceans, one of their projects was to locate the accumulations of plastic.
They found plenty. They explored the five huge gyres, which collectively contain tens of thousands of tons of plastic. The result was the creation of a compelling, first-of-its-kind map of this debris.
But in the process, they realized that the plastic in the gyres didn't begin to account for the enormous amount of plastic that's been manufactured since the mass production of plastic began in the mid 1940s.
"Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimeters, are unaccounted for in the surface loads. But we don't know what this plastic is doing. The plastic is somewhere—in the ocean life, in the depths or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets."
While there's been considerable alarm raised about these gyres of floating plastic, the missing plastic could be having negative impacts we don't yet know about. As National Geographic reports, the study of marine plastic debris is new, dating back only to 2004, when British marine biologist Richard Thompson concluded that most ocean debris is, in fact, plastic.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The discovery of the missing plastic raises a host of questions. Oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Cape Cod-based Sea Education Association, part of a team currently researching issues surrounding marine debris, told National Geographic:
"We are at the very early stages of understanding the accounting. If we think ten or a hundred times more plastic is entering the ocean than we can account for, then where is it? We still haven't answered that question. And if we don't know where it is or how it is impacting organisms, we can't tell the person on the street how big the problem is."
Among the possibilities: it's being consumed by small fish that are eaten by larger fish caught for human consumption, such as tuna and swordfish, and ending up in the human food system. Or it could be finding its way into the ecosystem of the world's least explored region, the deep ocean.
"Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this enigmatic ecosystem before we can really know it," said Cozar.
By Julia Conley
Representing more than 17,000 claimants who support climate action, the international organization Friends of the Earth on Tuesday opened its case against fossil fuel giant Shell at The Hague by demanding that a judge order the corporation to significantly reduce its carbon emissions in the next decade.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Eat Just's cultured chicken has been approved for sale in Singapore as an ingredient in chicken bites. Eat Just
- Most Meat Will Be Plant-Based or Lab-Grown in 20 Years, Analysts ... ›
- Slaughter-Free Lab Grown Steak Cast As Ethically Friendly Alternative ›
- FDA Takes First Steps to Regulating Lab-Grown Meat - EcoWatch ›
- Tyson Foods Invests in 'Clean Meat' - EcoWatch ›
The world's largest sand island has been on fire for the past six weeks due to a campfire, and Australia's firefighters have yet to prevent flames from destroying the fragile ecosystem.
By Jessica Corbett
A national nonprofit revealed Tuesday that testing commissioned by the group as well as separate analysis conducted by Massachusetts officials show samples of an aerially sprayed pesticide used by the commonwealth and at least 25 other states to control mosquito-borne illnesses contain toxic substances that critics call "forever chemicals."
- How Will the Biden Administration Tackle 'Forever Chemicals ... ›
- Are Forever Chemicals Harming Ocean Life? - EcoWatch ›
- How Chemicals Like PFAS Can Increase Your Risk of Severe ... ›
The government of New Zealand declared a climate emergency on Wednesday, a symbolic step recognizing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions of substantial global warming if emissions do not fall.