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  • Between Hawaii and California,  --in an area about twice the size of Texas--

  • Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  

  • For decades, tons of our plastic debris has accumulated there because of swirling ocean

  • currents.

  • It looks like a cloudy soup: and that's because the plastic objects are spaced far

  • apart, and they range in size from large debris to microscopic.There are at least 4 other

  • garbage patches like this in the world, And after scientists discovered them, starting

  • in the 90s.  

  • They thought that this might be where a lot of the plastic ended up, out there floating

  • on the surface.

  • But recently, scientists brought large nets to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and took

  • a closer look at the objects they pulled out.

  • They found water bottles And hard hats And bottle caps 

  • And toothbrushes And toilet seats

  • And laundry baskets And using what they found, they were able

  • to calculate how much debris was in all of the garbage patches

  • There were about a few hundred thousand tons of plastics at the surface of the ocean, which

  • is a huge number.

  • It is a big number.

  • But a few hundred thousand metric tons of plastic is only about 1% of the estimated

  • 8 million tonnes of plastic scientists believe is emitted into the ocean every year.

  • So scientists have been left investigating a mystery: Where does the rest of the ocean's

  • plastic go?

  •   This is clue number 1 in the case of the missing

  • plastic: a sea floor sediment sample  It was taken from the bottom of the Santa

  • Barbara Basin, off the coast of California

  • It represents a measure of time, from 1870 at its deepest layer of sediment, up until

  • 2009. 

  • But this period, from 1945 to 2009, is where the study authors were focused on

  • It's the era of plastic production.

  • In these layers, the study authors found plastic fibers and fragments that were 1 millimeter

  • or smaller in size

  • They found more and more plastic particles as the years went on, doubling every 15 years

  • That rate is nearly identical to the rate of global plastic production

  • Ss soon as you see a layer of microplastic you pass the 1950's and that's the legacy

  • of our generation.

  • This is Laurent Lebretonhe works at the Ocean Cleanup, and led the study of the objects

  • in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

  • And this will be there forever.

  • We know that

  • The sea sediment study looked at microplasticsparticles smaller than 5 millimeters.

  • These either come from clothing fibers, or they are the result of larger plastics breaking

  • down

  • We've found these tiny particles floating throughout the ocean, And even in the guts

  • of the ocean's tiniest creatures, like plankton.

  • But the sediment study shows that  some of our plastic is likely hiding, buried

  • in the sea floor, too.

  • But here's another clue: This is a plastic bag, captured 2,500 meters below the surface

  • of the Arctic deep sea.

  • It's one of over 2,100 photographs taken with this deep sea camera

  • Part of the work that we're doing is to look at the impact of climate change in the Arctic.

  • We use towed camera surveys to look at the impact on large animals like starfish and

  • snails, sponges.

  • And while I was doing these surveys, I saw that more and more plastic debris was on the

  • sea floor.

  • Melanie Bergmann's research shows that large plastic objects don't just float on the

  • surface or degrade into microplasticsome of them sink without breaking down

  • One study found that about 50% of plastic in landfills is more dense than seawater,

  • which means these objects could sink on their own.

  • But even those other 50 percent may actually travel to the sea floor with time, because

  • what we see is that the debris which is floating on the ocean surface becomes colonized with

  • biota over timebarnacles, mussels, all sorts of different organismsthen it becomes

  • heavier and heavier and at certain at a certain point and then starts to sink.

  • Bergmann's research is difficult to replicate throughout the ocean, because of the challenge

  • of surveying the deep sea environments.

  • But it suggests that some of that missing plastic might be sitting on the seafloor,

  • intact.

  • Another clue complicates the mystery, though: this plastic crate, from Taiwan.

  • It's one of the objects excavated during that harvest in the Great Pacific Garbage

  • Patch.

  • And what struck researchers was its production date: 1971. 

  • When they looked at the production dates of other objects, they saw a trend: a lot of

  • it was old trash.

  • This was a new lead: because if the majority of plastic pollution degraded into microplastic

  • or fell to the ocean floor, then what you'd see in garbage patches would be new plastic.

  • And that changed the story...the plastic that is accumulated at the surface of the ocean

  • is actually very persistent.

  • The plastic we find in subtropical oceans may actually be there for decades, if not

  • centuries.

  • It turns out the new plastic is far closer than the open ocean or the bottom of the deep

  • sea.

  • Lebreton's research found that plastic objects on coastlines have more recent production

  • dates than plastic in the open ocean

  • This clue led scientists to think a lot of debris actually stays close to shorelines

  • around the worldhidden in plain sight

  • Some of that will end up in the middle of the ocean and garbage patch, but actually

  • a lot of it stays fairly near shore and hop from beach to beach to beach

  • Erik Van Sebille is an oceanographer, and is building an ocean model that predicts where

  • our missing plastic ends up

  • The completed model will be finished in 2022, but in the meantime he and his team publish

  • initial results to a Twitter feed.

  • We use simulations of the ocean currents and they're a bit like weather models for the

  • ocean.

  • So they tell us how the currents are moving stuff around.

  • And then we put in virtual plastic

  • And then we move that plastic with the ocean flow.

  • At the same time the plastic and fragment, it can degrade, organisms start growing on

  • it that weighs down the plastic so that it slowly starts to sink into the deeper ocean.

  • So in that way, we're doing like this gigantic simulation of all of the ocean, of all the

  • plastic moving around

  • Van Sebille thinks that a majority of plastic pollution is within 100 miles of shorelines

  • continually getting washed back up on beaches, down coastlines, or up and down to the sea

  • floor.

  • If the plastic continuously goes back and forth between the coastline and offshore,

  • that's a lot of rubbing and fragmenting and scraping over the sand.

  • This commotion helps explain the presence of microplastics in sediments and animal guts,

  • too.

  • Laurent's organization is working on cleaning up the garbage patches in the middle of the

  • ocean.

  • But that won't do much for the other 99% of our plastic: The microplastics becoming

  • part of our food web and geologic record.

  • The larger debris sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

  • And, more likely than not, getting washed up on beaches

  • Like this one, where I recently visited, where I found a mix of micro and larger plastics

  • But knowing where plastics end up can help us keep this plastic heap from growing

  • These photos were taken by volunteers at an annual, international coastal clean-up event,

  • organized by the Ocean Conservancy

  • Where people volunteer to pick up plastic on beaches near them

  • The most common objects they find are food wrappers

  • Cigarette butts

  • Plastic bottle caps And plastic cups and plates

  • The easiest way to get plastic like this out of the ocean, is to prevent it from entering

  • in the first place.

  • With better recycling programs.

  • Or producing and using less plastic altogether

  • There are nearly 400,000 miles of coastline around the world, not all of it accessible

  • for people

  • But, knowing that most of our plastic pollution hangs out along shorelines before it becomes

  • microplastics or floats out to the open sea, means beach clean-ups can go a long way in

  • preventing further damage.

  • So if you see plastic pollution on a beachall the more reason to pick it up.

Between Hawaii and California,  --in an area about twice the size of Texas--

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B1 US Vox ocean garbage sea debris patch

Why 99% of ocean plastic pollution is "missing"

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/16
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