Andres Cozar Cabanas and a team of researchers have completed a comprehensive map of ocean plastic and rubbish. The team found millions of pieces of plastic debris in five large gyres (a large system of rotating currents in the ocean). It was determined that there was a huge amount of plastic, but not the amount expected. Plastic production has quadrupled since the 1980s but the wind, waves and sun have broken this plastic into very small bits which can be undetectable.
“Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimetres, are unaccounted for in the surface loads,” says Cozar. It is feared that this plastic is being ingested my marine mammals and entering the food chain, even possibly ending up in on our own plate. If the plastic has ended up deep in the ocean, there is little than can be done to clean it up and the consequences are relatively unknown.
“There are signs enough to suggest that plankton-eaters, the small fishes, are important conduits for plastic pollution and associated contaminants,” Cozar says. “If this assumption is confirmed, the impacts of a man-sustained plastic pollution could extend over the ocean predators on a large scale.”
The North Pacific Garbage Patch, a loose collection of drifting debris that accumulates in the northern Pacific, was first noticed upon by Charles Moore, an adventurer returning from a yachting competition. The study of marine plastic only began a decade ago when Richard Thompson, a British marine biologist concluded that plastic accounts for most of the ocean debris.
“We are at the very early stages of understanding the accounting,” saysKara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association. “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,” she adds, “we can’t tell the person on the street how big the problem is.”
In the world currently, we only recover 5% of the plastics that are produced. It has been documented that 44% of all seabirds, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and many fish (many species will be unaccounted for) have been found with plastic in or around their bodies. Ingestion of large amounts of plastic ultimately leads to death from internal blockages, dehydration and starvation. Each human being in the planet consumes an average of 38 kg of plastic per year. Is it unnecessary?
99% of the plastic supposed to be entering the oceans is being unaccounted for. This is a huge amount of plastic that is not accounted for and the impacts are unknown. Do we dare wait to see what happens?