A plastic pollution study published in the Public Library of Science on December 10, 2014 confirms what environmental activists have been saying all along: our oceans are full of plastic particles.
Using surface trawling data and visual observations from 24 expeditions across the globe, which were conducted between 2007 and 2013, the study estimates that there are at least 5.25 trillion particles in our oceans weighing 268,940 tons. The paper also acknowledges the limitations of the study, which did not include an assessment of plastic particles that were on shorelines, on the sea floor, in the water column below the surface, or ingested by organisms.
"In fact, the larger weight of macroplastic relative to meso- and microplastic, and the global estimate of floating plastic weight relative to the weight of plastic produced annually, indicates that the sea surface is likely not the ultimate sink for plastic pollution."
How much and where the rest of the plastic is ending up is still a mystery.
Plastic particles floating in the water collect surrounding toxins such as persistent organic pollutants on their surfaces. These POPs can accumulate in the organisms that eat them and be transferred to their tissues and organs. Plastic pollution can also entangle or choke wildlife, or cause starvation or malnutrition.
Co-authors of the study include Captain Charlie Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres.