268,940 Tons of Plastic in the World’s Oceans
News articles as well as blogs and social networks this week are full of references to the new study published on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE that estimates the amount of plastic currently existing in the world’s oceans. According to the study, which was conducted over 24 expeditions from 2007-2013, 268,940 tons of plastic that are broken up into more than 5 trillion pieces, are floating in the seas.
In order to gather the data for the study, observers on ships counted larger pieces of plastic and researchers dragged nets to collect smaller samples. Computer models were used to estimate amounts of plastic in parts of the oceans not physically surveyed as part of the project. Pieces that are greater than 8 inches constituted about 75% of the plastic specimens and come from fishing nets and buoys, according to Marcus Eriksen, the head of the effort and the co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute. 5 Gyres is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.”
What’s the Impact?
Plastic in the oceans is floating waste that attracts toxic substances such as PCBs and contaminates the aquatic habitat. Plastic in the seas eventually gathers at one of the tropical, subtropical or sub-polar gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, where it is ultimately ‘shredded’ into tiny pieces. Scientists are concerned that these tiny pieces of plastic can be ingested by fish and other organisms and enter the food chain. The human impact of such a scenario is not yet known.