The Ocean Is Contaminated by Trillions More Pieces of Plastic Than Thought
New research shows that the plastic problem is growing, but the full impact on marine life remains unknown.
By Taylor Hill
Dec 15, 2015
(Photo: Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images)
Somewhere between 15 trillion and 51 trillion pieces of plastic litter the world’s oceans, a new study has found. That’s three to 10 times more plastic than scientists had previously estimated.
“These estimates are larger than previous global estimates, but vary widely because the scarcity of data in most of the world ocean,” the researchers wrote. Studies estimate that large amounts of plastic go undetected because they sink to the ocean floor or are eaten by fish.
In one study, deep-sea fish in the North Pacific gyre were estimated to have ingested between 12,000 and 24,000 metric tons of microplastics annually.
According to the new study, the wide range in the estimated amount of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year “reveals a fundamental gap in understanding.”
But the data available shows that the North Pacific Ocean, often referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” has the highest density of plastic thanks in part to the region’s circular ocean currents and wind patterns.