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We already know that microplastics (bits that are less than 5 mm) are omnipresent in the ocean, but now scientists believe that previous estimates about how much plastic is in the ocean are actually way too low. Using very fine mesh nets, researchers surveyed the coasts of the U.S. and U.K. and were able to estimate that there could be at least twice as many microplastic particles in the ocean as previously thought. When the smaller particles they picked up in these survey trawls are added to global estimates of surface microplastics, it increases the range from between 5tn and 50tn particles to between 12tn-125tn particles, the scientists say.
Why This Matters: Microplastic is more abundant than the tiniest and one of the most abundant life forms in the ocean — zooplankton — if these estimates are correct. The smaller particles mean that they are similar in size to the food eaten by zooplankton, which are a key part of the marine food chain and important in regulating climate. As the authors say, “Microplastics are a prolific, persistent and pernicious contaminant, posing an environmental and economic risk to marine ecosystems across the globe.” We need to reduce our plastics load on the marine environment and soon.
Microplastics Found In Greater Abundance on the Seafloor Too
Recently, another group of scientists found that microplastics are also more abundant on the seafloor than had been believed. The plastic floating on the surface in the large ocean garbage patches is actually only 1% of the total plastic in the ocean. Where does the rest end up? On the seafloor. The researchshows that “powerful currents sweep these microplastics along the seafloor into large ‘drifts,’ which concentrate them in astounding quantities.” They found the highest levels of microplastics ever on the seafloor — they counted “1.9 million pieces of microplastic in a 5 cm-thick layer covering just one square meter.” Scientists believe that deep-sea currents push microplastics to the seabed like giant deepsea waves and deposit it in vast sediment drifts, thereby creating plastic “hotspots” on the seafloor and accumulating in the very same locations as biodiversity hotspots, where deep-sea life is abundant.
This week, we have featured this series of videos by the Environmental Defense Fund about the impacts climate change is having on the ocean as observed by the people who live and work there — fishermen and women. Their stories have been compelling and provided a sense of the ways that climate change is harming and shifting global fish stocks.
Why This Matters: On Tuesday, pursuant to President Biden’s climate executive order, NOAA announced: “an agency-wide effort to gather initial public input” on “how to make fisheries, including aquaculture, and protected resources more resilient to climate change.
It’s not just men in the fishing sector who are impacted by climate change, overfishing, and COVID-19 — women are too. Women like Alexia Jaurez of Sonora, Mexico, who is featured in this Environmental Defense Fund video, do the important work of monitoring the catch and the price, and most importantly determining how many more […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Last summer, Florida created its first aquatic preserve in over 30 years. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve protects about 400,000 acres of seagrass just north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast. These are part of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest seagrass bed and borders other existing preserves, creating a […]
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