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New concerns about plastic waste in the oceans

Plastic pollution of the seas causes damage to the marine environment. The extent of the plastic waste has led to damaging effects on fish, birds and other seafaring animals. Often plastic is mistaken for food, leading to harm and often death. Many dead birds examined in the Arctic area have been shown to have pieces of plastic inside them.

Other risks include birds being unduly weighted down through ingesting plastic. Other marine life affected includes oysters, where toxins from plastic have been shown to prevent reproduction.

Moreover, the waste is either toxic in itself or it leads to the creation of an ecosystem called the ‘plastisphere.’ This ecosystem leads to a prevalence of bacterial growth and this leads to a build-up of pollution. One concern from this is that many of the bacteria thriving in their new habitat are pathogens. On this basis alone, plastic debris might pose a health risk for invertebrates, fish or possibly humans.

According to The Guardian, there are now over 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans. How far plastic waste travels has been poorly understood until now. This has changed with research produced by Dr. Erik van Sebille (Imperial College London.) Dr. Sebille has analysed the pattern.

Here the scientist explains: “The ocean currents are like conveyor belts moving UK plastic very fast up north, which is the probably the worst place for plastic to be at this moment.”

This is to the extent that the level of plastic in the Arctic stands close to one trillion pieces. Some of this becomes frozen into Arctic ice, becoming concentrated, and posing a significant risk should (or rather when?) the ice melts as a consequence of global warming.

The drift of plastic has been shown through the Plastic Adrift computer tool. The interactive tool is designed to illustrate the dangers of plastic pollutants. The program allows users to explore how different objects drift through the ocean and where each object might end up if it is washed out to sea from the beach. The program is based on a scientific method using observed tracks revealed by buoys in the Global Drifter Program.

Commenting on the program on Twitter, environmentalist Laura Shirra (@LShirr) tweeted: “Very cool mapping tool that can help show where plastic adrift in the oceans will end up.” Oceanographer Stephanie Allen (@adrift_wanderer) is also recommending people visit the website and check just how far plastic waste spreads through the seas.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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