What’s Going On Here?
Scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory used fine mesh nets to collect samples of coastal waters from the US and UK and found 2.5 times more microplastics than previous samples.
What Does This Mean?
Measuring less than 5 millimeters, microplastics gather in our oceans as they break away from bigger plastics such as packaging, bottles and old car tyres. The research team used finer nets than scientists typically use to gain a more accurate understanding of just how widespread they’ve become.
The study found there could be up to 125 trillion particles of plastic floating in our oceans compared to the 5 and 50 trillion particles previously suggested. That’s 3,700 microplastic particles per cubic metre. More plastic than plankton?
Why Should We Care?
In recent years we’ve grown more aware of the invisible plastic problem, with particles found in locations as remote as the Arctic and Antarctic. They are in our water, soil and the air we breathe. But it’s in the ocean that they find their way into our food systems.You’ll probably have seen an image of a dead seabird that has swallowed plastic, but microplastics are a less visible issue. When sea creatures mistake microplastics for zooplankton they have been found to grow with mutated organs and microplastics embedded within their tissues. Because microplastics can absorb contaminants like PCBs and heavy metals, they result in dangerous concentrations which accumulate in animals and us, when we consume animals.
Studies like this help us to influence government policy, consumer behaviour, and fund research into solutions. As sad as these findings are, we can take action to reduce our reliance on plastics, and there is hope for technology innovation in mass-scale clean-up.
- Read about this teenager from Ireland who was awarded top prize from Google Science Fair for his project dedicated to the removal of microplastics from water.
- Reduce the amount of plastic food packaging that you use by buying your groceries from a zero-waste bulk store.
- Wash clothes that contain plastic microfibers at a lower temperature. Friends of the Earth have some tips on this here.