Ten times more microplastics in the oceans than previously thought!

You have probably already heard about the microplastics problem of the ocean but do you know how bad it is? The world’s plastic pollution problem is much worse than imagined, according to a new analysis published on 18 August in Nature Communications. Compared to previous estimates of around 17 million, the latest findings suggest the actual number of ‘invisible’ microplastics could be at least 10 times higher – that is, there may be around 200 million tonnes of microplastics in the Atlantic Ocean alone. 

To come up with the latest estimates, the scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in the UK collected seawater samples between September and November 2016 during the 26th Atlantic Meridional Transect expedition. Then, they used a spectroscopic imaging technique to identify plastic contaminants in the top 200 meters of water, which amounted to between 12 and 21 million tonnes of three of the most common types of plastics: polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.

By assuming the concentration of plastic in the whole Atlantic is the same, the scientists were to come up with an estimate of more than 200 million tonnes in the Atlantic as a whole. Increased public awareness of the plastic pollution problem and public initiatives such as carrier bag charges seem to have had little impact so far.

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a surge in plastic waste. In another recent paper published in Environmental Science & Technology, the authors report an estimated global use of around 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves per month during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is resulting in widespread environmental contamination – and making its way into the oceans (4). Single-use plastics– much of it not recyclable – have reached epic proportions due to increased takeaway and other coronavirus precautions. 

According to the new study, an average of around 1000 small plastic particles swim in one cubic meter of the Atlantic, most of which are invisible to the eye – around one piece per liter of seawater. For this purpose, the researchers included quantities of plastic since 1950.


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Credit: Pabortsava, K., Lampitt, R.S. High concentrations of plastic hidden beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Nat Commun11, 4073 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17932-9

Image Credit: dpa


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