Groundbreaking study finds 13.3 quadrillion plastic fibers in California’s environment

Groundbreaking study finds 13.3 quadrillion plastic fibers in California’s environment

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 16, 2020 SNIP: A study in California has laid bare the staggering scale of pollution from plastic microfibers in synthetic clothing – one of the most widespread, yet largely invisible, forms of plastic waste. The report, whose findings were revealed exclusively by the Guardian, found that in 2019 an estimated 4,000 metric tons – or 13.3 quadrillion fibers – were released into California’s natural environment. The plastic fibers, which are less than 5mm in length, are primarily shed when we wash our yoga pants, stretchy jeans and fleece jackets and can easily enter oceans and waterways. “The findings were nothing short of shocking,” said Alexis Jackson, fisheries project director at the Nature Conservancy in California, which commissioned the study from a research team at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study, which the authors describe as the first of its kind, has not yet been peer reviewed or published. Many picture ocean plastic pollution as large debris such as bags, straws and bottles, but in fact the majority consists of tiny particles that accumulate in tiny organisms and rise in the food chain. Their size makes it easy for them to collect in everything from plants to plankton. A recent study found that 73% of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Atlantic had microplastic in their stomachs. The number – 13.3 quadrillion – is tricky to wrap one’s mind around, so the study’s authors have made more digestible comparisons: it’s 130,000 times as many fibers as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s also equivalent to 80m rubber duckies’ worth...
Microplastic pollution in oceans vastly underestimated

Microplastic pollution in oceans vastly underestimated

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: May 22, 2020 SNIP: The abundance of microplastic pollution in the oceans is likely to have been vastly underestimated, according to research that suggests there are at least double the number of particles as previously thought. Scientists trawled waters off the coasts of the UK and US and found many more particles using nets with a fine mesh size than when using coarser ones usually used to filter microplastics. The addition of these smaller particles to global estimates of surface microplastics increases the range from between 5tn and 50tn particles to 12tn-125tn particles, the scientists say. Plastic pollution is known to harm the fertility, growth and survival of marine life. Smaller particles are especially concerning because they are the same size as the food eaten by zooplankton, which underpin the marine food chain and play an important role in regulating the global climate. The new data suggests there may be more microplastic particles than zooplankton in some waters. “The estimate of marine microplastic concentration could currently be vastly underestimated,” said Prof Pennie Lindeque, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, who led the research. She said there may well be even smaller particles than those caught by the fine mesh nets, meaning the numbers “could be even larger again”. Another new study shows how microplastics have entered the food chain in rivers, with birds found to be consuming hundreds of particles a day via the aquatic insects on which they feed. Microplastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from Arctic snow and mountain soils to many rivers and the deepest oceans. It is also...
Microplastics disrupt hermit crabs’ ability to choose shell, study suggests

Microplastics disrupt hermit crabs’ ability to choose shell, study suggests

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: April 29, 2020 SNIP: When it comes to moving home, hermit crabs are experts, often swapping shells for the optimal abode. But now researchers have found that exposure to microplastics disrupts this key behaviour. The finds are the latest to suggest such pollution could be having an impact on the world’s marine creatures. “Usually a so-called ‘normal’ hermit crab will always want to go for the better shell,” said Dr Gareth Arnott, co-author of the new research from Queen’s University Belfast, adding such shells are typically those of sea snails. “The striking thing in this study was when [we offered them a better shell], lots of the crabs that had been exposed to the microplastics didn’t make the optimal decision to take [it],” he said. Microplastics – pieces of plastic 5mm or smaller – are a growing subject of research, with previous studies showing they are present even in the depths of the ocean and are ending up in the bodies of living organisms, from seals to crabs and seabirds. However, while there is some evidence that exposure to such pollution has affected growth and reproduction in some animals, research into specific effects on animal behaviour and cognition remains scarce. Writing in the journal Biology Letters, the team report how they kept each group in the tanks for five days, before removing each crab from its shell and giving it a new shell – crucially, these shells were about half the ideal weight for each crab. After two hours in their new shell, each crab was then put into a deep dish of seawater and...
Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

Penguins’ plastic peril: Scientists warn of growing threat to endangered birds from toxic fibres polluting the ocean

SOURCE: Sunday Post DATE: February 10, 2020 SNIP: A study in Antarctic has found that over three quarters of the penguins surveyed in South Georgia had microfibres in their stomachs. Smaller than a baby’s fingernail, and often coated in toxic chemicals, they can lodge in a bird’s stomach, and as they break down into even smaller nanoparticles, wreak havoc throughout the body. Until recently it was believed that the Antarctic, protected by the Circumpolar Current flowing eastward around the uninhabited continent, was a haven from the menace. The island is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of King Penguins, with around 100,000 pairs, and was praised by Sir David Attenborough as one of the most extraordinary places on Earth. Standing over three feet tall, the birds raise just one chick every two years, and have a striking patch of orange-gold feathers on their neck. Lead researcher Camille Le Guen from St Andrews University, who spent over two months on the island, said: “The seas are suffering from climate change, and over-fishing. Plastic pollution is an added and growing threat. “The Southern Ocean was supposed to be the cleanest ocean in the world – but maybe this is not such an isolated place after all. “The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is like a semi-barrier for microfibres, but once they manage to get in, they are stuck because of that current and then they will accumulate.” She added: “We found 77% of birds had microfibres in their diet, birds with chicks and even non-breeding birds.” And almost 300m tonnes of plastic debris are estimated to be floating at sea surface...
The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 31, 2019 SNIP: Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world. But for at least a decade, the biggest question among scientists who study marine plastic hasn’t been why plastic in the ocean is so abundant, but why it isn’t. What scientists can see and measure, in the garbage patches and on beaches, accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total plastic entering the water. So where is the other 99% of ocean plastic? Unsettling answers have recently begun to emerge. What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “I often joke that being an ocean plastic scientist should be an easy job, because you can always find a bit wherever you look,” says Van Sebille. But, he adds, the reality is that our maps of the ocean essentially end at the surface, and solid numbers on how much plastic is in any one location are lacking. It is becoming apparent that plastic ends up in huge quantities in the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, and caught like clouds of dust deep in the water column. Perhaps most frighteningly, says Helge Niemann, a biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea...