In the Atlantic Ocean, far more minuscule plastic particles are floating than has been assumed so far, according to new research. The findings would explain where the plastic that has landed in the sea over the past decades and then ‘disappeared’.
Scientists were long puzzled, there was no balance between the amount of plastic that is researchers are in the sea, found on the surface of the water, and the amount of plastic waste in the sea was. The estimated quantities of plastic that have landed at sea since the 1950s were much greater than those observed at sea. The vast majority of plastic seemed to disappear and scientists wondered where it was. Does it wash up on shores? Does it sink to the bottom after it falls into little pieces? Are little pieces eaten by sea creatures?
Researchers from the British National Oceanography Centre write this week in the scientific journal Nature Communications that they have found the solution. They found so many microplastics in the Atlantic that they think the total amount of plastic should be balanced with the estimates of ‘imports’ into the ocean. Maybe even bigger. “There is no missing plastic stock in the ocean,” says researcher Katsiaryna Pabortsava. “We saw that a lot of plastic is below the surface of the sea. Looks like there’s a lot more plastic in the ocean than before. Earlier estimates of plastic pollution were inadequate.’
With their’ disturbing study’, the researchers solved the mystery of the missing plastic, confirms former Professor Hans van Vienna. “Microplastics are proving to make a substantial contribution to the burden of the Atlantic. Plastics are becoming smaller and smaller due to fragmentation and slowly fall to the bottom. This seems to be happening on a large scale.’In addition, many deliberately produced microplastics, such as microbeads in cosmetics and care products, end up at sea. Plastic pollution appears to be transported not only from land and through rivers, but also through the air. Microplastics attract harmful substances that can be absorbed by zooplankton and other marine life together with the plastic, and possibly reach the human food chain.