Plastic (not) fantastic. The Ocean Plastic Pollution Problem

In 2009 a group of scientists left San Diego on board the Scripps Institute of Oceanography’s research vessel New Horizon for the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch – where litter, primarily microscopic, congregates.  Although little studied, the researchers knew that the patch was given its name for good reason, but what greeted them was still shocking.  "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?" Dr Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist of the expedition exclaimed.

Credit:  MichaelisScientists/Wikimedia  (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Credit: MichaelisScientists/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The creation of modern day plastics can be traced back to the 1850's, but it wasn’t until World War II, with more traditional resources in short supply that demand became more widespread.  Today, plastics a found in almost every type of product, and every environment imaginable.  Sightings have included plastic chairs 3,962 meters below the ocean surface, pieces floating in the surface waters surround Antarctica, and in deep sea sediments.  Plastic pollution in any environment is without doubt unsightly, but the proliferation of plastics – particularly microplastics, throughout the World’s ocean has greater implications for marine life and humans than aesthetics alone.

This article was written for (and can be read in full in) The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST)