What is it about?

Microplastics (pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm in size) are a major hazard to marine life. Their presence has been documented all over marine ecosystems and is cause for concern among environmentalists, yet their distribution and abundance has not been rigorously measured. A 2015 study aimed to address this gap in knowledge. The authors assess whether current global estimates of microplastic abundance and mass could be trusted or not. They used a global dataset that measured distribution of plastic marine debris, coupled with observations from three ocean circulation models and the largest available dataset of microplastic measurements. This was the third such study done on microplastic distribution, and it found that 15 to 51 trillion particles of microplastics had accumulated in the oceans in 2014. This was a much larger number than previous global estimates.

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Why is it important?

Pollution from microplastics in the oceans is a growing ecological threat, and multiple studies have attempted to study their distribution and abundance. However, most of these studies focused on the North Atlantic and North Pacific Ocean accumulation zones, ignoring other areas. Hence, a more comprehensive estimate of global microplastic debris occurrence in oceans was necessary. This information could ultimately be used to assess marine organisms’ exposure to and impact from interaction with these debris. KEY TAKEAWAY Accurately estimating global distribution and accumulation of microplastic debris is the first step to understanding their impact on marine life and taking steps to reduce their accumulation in our oceans. Many factors affect these data, and careful assessment of each of these factors, along with increasing our fundamental knowledge, will help in these estimations.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A global inventory of small floating plastic debris, Environmental Research Letters, December 2015, Institute of Physics Publishing, DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/12/124006.
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