From the straws in your fountain drink to the soles of our shoes, plastics are a part of our daily lives, and we’re surrounded by them without often realizing it. Unfortunately, as plastic waste makes its way from our households to our oceans, fish and other marine organisms are not only surrounded by plastics too, but ingesting it.
Ten to 20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, and enter through a number of ways, including littering, runoff, direct dumping, and other mechanisms. This waste now circles through our oceans in massive gyres, and threatens the health and safety of marine wildlife. Plastic plastic debris contaminates 88 percent of the ocean’s surface, according to Aljazeera America, and it’s become so widespread that scientists found that over one trillion pieces of microplastics are locked up in Arctic ice.
Stern of purse seiners and hundreds of plastic bottles in the harbor of Sfax, Tunisia. (Photo: Oceana / LX)
Plastic pollution and the need to resolve this issue was a major theme at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean conference in June, creating a global momentum for addressing this problem. Since then, the issue has also garnered widespread media attention.
In case you’ve missed it, here’s a round-up of some of the latest articles featuring this global issue:
- CNN recently wrote about a series of new reports highlighting the widespread damage of plastic waste in our oceans. The article addresses how plastic waste is not only harmful to marine ecosystems and organisms, but also to economies, as billions of dollars are spent on resolving plastic-waste damage each year.
- Science reported earlier this month on a new type of rock molded together from plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, and corals found on the shores of Hawaii. Scientists speculate that these stones—dubbed “plastiglomerates”—most likely formed from melting plastic in fires lit by humans. Some of the plastic, including toothbrushes, forks, and ropes, are still recognizable in the rocks.
- Last week, The Huffington Post wrote about a new study that revealed there’s less plastic debris in the open ocean than previously thought, which is leaving scientists puzzled. Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic debris at 7,000 to 35,000 tons, where there was previously believed to be 1 million tons in the 1970s. The estimate, which only includes floating debris—not plastic that may have sunk beneath the surface or on the ocean floor—has some speculating that the tiniest pieces are being eaten by small fish.
- The New York Times published an editorial earlier this month highlighting some current statistics on plastic waste in the oceans, and what world leaders and volunteers could be doing to tackle this issue. Most notably, the article focuses on the Hawaiian Islands’ increasingly apparent problem with plastic debris, reporting that about 15 to 20 tons of new trash washes ashore each year.
- Earlier this week, Science Daily reported that all of the world’s oceans have plastic debris on their surface. Findings from an expedition showed that there are five large accumulations of plastic debris in the ocean—in addition to the North Pacific accumulation—in the central North Atlantic, the South Pacific, the South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean. The study performed by the Malaspina Expedition also indicates large amounts of microplastics could be circulating through marine food chains and the ocean floor.