Scientists Discover Highest Concentration of Deep-Sea Microplastics to Date
Scientists have discovered the highest concentration of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor—1.9 million pieces in one square meter (approximately 11 square feet) of the Mediterranean.
But the finding, published in Science Thursday, suggests a much broader problem as deep-sea currents carry plastics to microplastic "hotspots" that may also be deep-sea ecosystems rich in biodiversity. For study coauthor professor Elda Miramontes of the University of Bremen, Germany, the results were a call to action.
"We're all making an effort to improve our safety and we are all staying at home and changing our lives - changing our work life, or even stopping work," she told BBC News, referring to the global response to the new coronavirus. "We're doing all this so that people are not affected by this sickness. We have to think in the same way when we protect our oceans."
Researchers from @OfficialUoM have found the highest ever level of microplastic in the deep ocean, with 1.9 million… https://t.co/uAIMLQcGbs— UoM News (@UoM News)1588274084.0
Of the more than ten million tons of plastic that enter the world's oceans every year, less than one percent of it stays on the surface. Researchers at the University of Bremen, IFREMER in France, the universities of Manchester and Durham and the National Oceanography Centre in the UK set out to discover what happens to the remaining 99 percent, a University of Manchester press release explained.
They determined that it doesn't settle on the bottom evenly, but is instead pushed together with other sediments by deep-sea currents.
"Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ocean 'garbage patches' of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found in the deep seafloor," lead study author Dr. Ian Kane of the University of Manchester said in the press release. "We discovered that microplastics are not uniformly distributed across the study area; instead they are distributed by powerful seafloor currents which concentrate them in certain areas."
Because these currents also distribute oxygen and nutrients, the microplastics may be concentrating in important deep-sea ecosystems.
Since this is the first study to uncover the connection between these currents and microplastic concentration, it can drive research into other seafloor hotspots and their impact on marine life. Other studies have shown that toxic chemicals from plastics can block the digestive systems of insects and marine animals, CNBC pointed out. They can also harm their development and reproductive systems. Microplastics have been found in 114 freshwater and ocean species to date.
The research took place in the Tyrrhenian basin between Italy, Corsica and Sardinia, but there is nothing unique to that area that could not occur in other ocean regions with strong deep-ocean currents, BBC News explained.
The microplastic fibers on the seafloor mostly come from textiles and clothing, the University of Manchester said. They end up there because wastewater treatment plants do not filter them effectively.
Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was not involved with the current research, but is part of the broader effort to understand how plastics enter the oceans.
"We still have a very poor understanding of how much total plastic has accumulated in the oceans. There seems to be one emerging scientific consensus, which is that most of that plastic is not floating on the ocean surface," he told BBC News. "Many scientists now think that most of the plastic is likely to be on the ocean floor, but the water column and the beaches are also likely to contain major quantities. We really should all be completely focused on stopping plastic from entering the oceans in the first place."
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From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
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Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
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4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
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5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
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