Researchers from the University of Cádiz (UCA) have carried out an unprecedented finding: they have shown that there are five large accumulations of plastic waste in the open ocean, coinciding with the five great turns of circulation of surface water in the ocean.
In addition to the well-known accumulation of plastic garbage in the North Pacific, scientists have found similar accumulations in the central North Atlantic, the South Pacific, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Likewise, they have pointed out that the surface waters of the center of the oceans may not be the final destination of plastic waste, since large amounts of microplastics are passing to the marine food chain and to the ocean floor.
This work, led by the University of Cádiz and linked to the Campus of International Excellence del Mar, is a cover article of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
According to this study, the global amount of plastic accumulated on the surface of the oceans is tens of thousands of tons.
These microplastics influence the behavior and the food chain of marine organisms. On the one hand, the small plastic fragments often accumulate pollutants that, if ingested, can pass into organisms during digestion. Similarly, gastrointestinal obstructions can occur, which are another of the most frequent problems with this type of waste.
"On the other hand, the abundance of floating plastic fragments allows many small organisms to navigate and colonize places previously inaccessible to them. But, probably, most of the impacts that plastic pollution is causing in the oceans are not yet known. ”, As explained by the professor and researcher at the UCA Andrés Cózar.
As plastic objects are carried by ocean currents, they crack and break into smaller and smaller pieces due to solar radiation. However, small pieces of plastic (known as microplastics) can last for hundreds of years.
The plastic waste found on the surface of the oceans is mainly polyethylene and polypropylene; polymers used in products such as bags, food and drink containers, wrappers, household utensils or toys.
In order to reach these conclusions and obtain the first global estimate of the amount of floating plastic on the surface of the oceans, this team of researchers, led by Andrés Cózar, has focused on the analysis of all the samples that were taken in Open ocean waters during the Malaspina Expedition in 2010.
Some samples collected far from the coast and urban centers, but in which, despite this, floating plastics appeared, in fact this plastic garbage was found “in 88% of the oceanic surface sampled. The results obtained show the planetary scale of the problem of pollution by plastic waste ”, as indicated by the researcher from the University of Cádiz.
In order to tackle this pollution problem on a global scale, the University of Cádiz insists on the need to go one step further and “in addition to carrying out a selective removal of waste from the coasts and oceans, it would be necessary to at the root of the problem, that is, the massive and continued entry of plastic into the oceans ”.
Likewise, “it is necessary that plastic products incorporate a design that really allows a sustainable use of this material. Investing in research to reduce, reuse and truly recycle the plastic in commercial products, I believe is not only a necessary measure from an environmental point of view, but it is also a profitable investment from a commercial point of view. The oceans are no longer big enough to hide all the plastic garbage we generate ”, as Professor Andrés Cózar sentenced.
The Malaspina Expedition 2010
The Malaspina Circumnavigation Expedition 2010 is a project, directed by the Higher Council for Scientific Research and coordinated by researcher Carlos Duarte, which integrates more than 400 scientists from around the world and started on December 15, 2010 with the departure of the port from Cádiz of the oceanographic research vessel Hespérides.
On board this ship of the Spanish Navy and the Sarmiento de Gamboa ship, the researchers studied for nine months (seven on board the Hespérides and two on board the Sarmiento) the impact of global change on the ocean ecosystem and explored its biodiversity.
The scientists took about 200,000 samples of water, plankton, fish, atmospheric particles and gases at 313 points in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans with depths of up to 6,000 meters. The circumnavigation is serving to carry out a comprehensive diagnosis of the state of the planet's oceans and to explore the mysteries of its depths.
- Andrés Cózar, Fidel Echevarría, Juan I. González-Gordillo, Xabier Irigoien, Bárbara Úbeda, Santiago Hernández-León, Álvaro Palma, Sandra Navarro, Juan García-de-Lomas, Andrea Ruiz, María L. Fernández-de-Puelles, and Carlos M. Duarte. "Plastic debris in the open ocean". PNAS. DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1314705111.