Microplastics The Main Cause of Ocean Pollution

Plastic-found-on-a-beach-in-Key-Largo-Florida

Microplastics are tiny and very hard to cleanup

Article by Richard Arterbury

Microplastics are the main cause of ocean pollution, and are extremely small pieces of plastic created by the breakdown of larger plastic waste, are a main cause of ocean pollution and are often hard to see with the naked eye. Most plastic ocean pollution is floating between the water and beaches. Over time the plastic will break down into smaller pieces, hastened as the sun degrades the plastic fragments. As you might expect, ocean pollution  is not a good thing for our marine wildlife (or humans).

Where do Microplastics come from?
Microplastics being the main cause of Ocean pollution and come from a variety of sources that eventually make their way into our oceans. Sources include larger pieces of plastic waste that have broken apart, leftover plastic from manufacturing, or in the form of microbeads, small plastic beads used in health and beauty products.

Where Are Microplastics Found

Map of plastic pollution found on beaches left by humans shooting fireworks.
Plastic in photo below and on map is from fireworks by people visiting this area for an area to shot fireworks on 4th of July in Long Beach, Washington.

Many types of Microplastics that are the main cause of Ocean pollution comes from containers, bottles, bottle caps, lids, packaging straps, oyster spacers, ropes, and fishing ghost nets. The large setback with ocean plastics is they are made of Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) and the chemicals are linked to harmful healthy effects, including various cancers, and harming our immune systems. 
TIP: By avoiding single use plastic like straws, plastic cups, spoons, or forks from fast food restaurants we can all lower a very large amount of Ocean Plastic.

Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic

Map of the giant pacific garbage patch

(2018)
(Study measured plastics from 1970s to present)

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is a floating mass of plastic debris l in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The GPGP is made up of plastic waste like discarded fishing nets and other refuse, but an alarming portion (94%!) is made up of microplastics that are the main cause of Ocean pollution floating around and carried by ocean currents to this vortex area where it gets stuck in the larger patch. Today we have an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of microplastics located in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Source).

Annual plastic consumption around the globe has now reached over 340 million tons with more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before. When plastic is introduced into the marine environment, buoyant pieces are carried by surface currents and winds, sometimes washing onto shore and degrading into smaller pieces by the action of sun, temperature variations, waves and marine life. Some piece lose buoyancy and sink. 

The high concentration of ocean plastic occurring in the GPGP are mostly attributed to a connection to substantial ocean plastic sources in Asia, as well as intensified fishing activity using plastic fiber ropes and in the Pacific Ocean and found on beaches on the West Coast.




Microplastics In Fish

Microplastic in water is also getting into our fish and onto our dinner plates. A recent study by the University of Ghent in Belgium found human seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year with dozens of particles becoming embedded in tissues. Read more facts about fish eating plastic.

Microplastics found on beaches in Oregon
The Ocean filters Ocean Pollution by leaving it on sandy beaches to be collected. Photo taken by Richard Arterbury in Manzanita, Oregon.

Types Of Microplastics

Many types of ocean plastic comes from containers, bottles, bottle caps, lids, packaging straps, oyster spacers, ropes, and fishing ghost nets. The large setback with ocean plastics is they are made of Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) and the chemicals are linked to harmful healthy effects, including various cancers, and harming our immune systems. 

TIP: By avoiding single use plastic like straws, plastic cups, spoons, or forks from
fast food restaurants we can all lower a very large amount of Ocean Plastic.

How old is this ocean plastic?

Plastic younger than 5 years accounts for only 26% of the buoyant plastic mass floating in our ocean. Over 80% of buoyant gyre bound plastic ends up on beaches where it is then degraded by the sun over time.

Macroplastics older than 15 years contribute nearly half of the total mass (47%) of ocean plastic. Microplastics generated from the degradation of macroplastics shows that most (74%) of the degraded plastic mass in the ocean comes from objects produced in the 1990s (27%) and earlier (47%).

Looking over this research model predicts that most of the plastic mass that has entered the marine environment since the 1950s has not disappeared from the ocean surface by degradation. Rather it isstranded or settled on its way to offshore waters, possibly slowly circulating between coastal environments with repeated episodes of beaching, fouling, defouling and resurfacing. Most of the modeled macroplastic mass floating in coastal waters is composed of relatively new objects while older objects are better represented in the open ocean.

Plastic Pollution and Wildlife

About 1,000 sea turtles die annually from digesting plastic. Researchers at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia found that a turtle had a 22% chance of dying from ingesting one plastic item. 
 
Once a turtle gobbles 14 pieces of plastic, the mortality rate jumps to 50 percent. Another report mentioned once an animal eats 200 pieces of plastic death is eminent, reports Matt McGrath at the BBC. The researchers estimate that 52 percent of sea turtles across the globe have some plastic in their guts, but plastic ingestion rates are different around the world. Researchers found 54 percent of post-hatchling turtles and 23 percent of juvenile turtles had plastic inside of them compared to 16 percent of adult turtles.
 
“Young small turtles actually drift and float with the ocean currents as does much of the buoyant, small lightweight plastic,” lead author Britta Denise Hardesty of CSIRO tells the BBC. “We think that small turtles are less selective in what they eat than large adults who eat sea grass and crustaceans, the young turtles are out in the oceanic area offshore and the older animals are feeding in closer to shore.”
 
The physiology of turtles also makes plastic lethal for them since the animals can’t regurgitate, meaning whatever they eat is on a one-way trip through their gut. Even one small piece of plastic that gets trapped in the wrong place can cause a blockage that leads to death. Read more about this study.

The Ocean Cleanup Organization

Many organizations are working together to help remove ocean pollution by removing or educating youth to become stewards of our environment. Ocean Blue Project’s goal is to remove 1 million pounds of ocean plastic with equipment to help filter beach sand. Ocean cleanup technology is vital when it comes to removing plastic from the environment and before the plastic becomes so small we can see it with a naked eye.

Plastic Pollution Facts

Estimate that at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea. Estimates suggest that the two Northern Hemisphere ocean regions contain 55.6% of particles and 56.8% of plastic mass compared to the Southern Hemisphere, with the North Pacific containing 37.9% and 35.8% by particle count and mass, respectively. The Southern Hemisphere the Indian Ocean appears to have a greater particle count and weight than the South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans combined.

Most small microplastics were fragments resulting from the breakdown of larger plastic items; therefore we expected the smallest microplastics to be more abundant than larger microplastics. Data suggest that a minimum of 233,400 tons of larger plastic items are afloat in the world’s oceans compared to 35,540 tons of microplastics. Read more about plastic facts:

Documented about 1,000 sea turtles die annually from digesting plastic. Researchers at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia found that a turtle had a 22 percent chance of dying from ingesting one plastic item. 

Once a turtle gobbles 14 pieces of plastic, the mortality rate jumps to 50 percent. Another report mentioned once an animal eats 200 pieces of plastic death is eminent, reports Matt McGrath at the BBC. The researchers estimate that 52 percent of sea turtles across the globe have some plastic in their guts, but plastic ingestion rates are different around the world. Researchers found 54 percent of post-hatchling turtles and 23 percent of juvenile turtles had plastic inside of them compared to 16 percent of adult turtles.

“Young small turtles actually drift and float with the ocean currents as does much of the buoyant, small lightweight plastic,” lead author Britta Denise Hardesty of CSIRO tells the BBC. “We think that small turtles are less selective in what they eat than large adults who eat sea grass and crustaceans, the young turtles are out in the oceanic area offshore and the older animals are feeding in closer to shore.”

The physiology of turtles also makes plastic lethal for them since the animals can’t regurgitate, meaning whatever they eat is on a one-way trip through their gut. Even one small piece of plastic that gets trapped in the wrong place can cause a blockage that leads to death. Read more about this study. Read more about Revitalizing Native American Culture & Saving Marine Wildlife.

Ocean Cleanup Organizations

Many organizations are working together to help remove ocean pollution by removing or educating youth to become stewards of our environment. Ocean Blue Project goal is to remove 1 million pounds of Ocean Plastic with equipment to help filter beach sand. Ocean Cleanup Technology is vital when it comes to removing plastic from the environment and before the plastic becomes so small we can see it with a naked eye. How volunteers are helping make larger impact one clean up at a time.

Ocean Cleanup Machine

Ocean Cleanup Machine is being used to remove microplastics from sandy beaches by Ocean Blue Project. The nonprofit targets microplastics that end up on beaches before the plastic fragments are washed back to sea during high tide. Ocean Blue Project has purchased two Microplastics cleanup machines that are able to remove microplastics from sandy beaches with ease. The first smaller machine will be used for our research areas and the larger machine will be able to filter over a ton of sand per hour, leaving the plastic with our team. Ocean Blue’s goal is to remove 1 million pounds of microplastics annually. The equipment should be in the works next month with goals to remove thousands of pounds daily. Contact Ocean Blue: Help Save The Whale’s

Shop Ocean Blue & Help Save Marine Wildlife

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