What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Most of the trash in the ocean comes from land, and most of it is plastic. An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic leaves the shorelines into the ocean globally each year, and there are now over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the ocean currently.
“Given their pervasive and persistent nature, microplastics have become a global environmental concern and a potential risk to human populations,” said Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester and colleagues in their report, published in Nature Geoscience.
“From acidification to the worsening impacts of hurricanes, climate change is negatively affecting our oceans and coastal communities. In addition, plastic waste and marine litter pose an increasingly serious threat to our oceans, marine life, and human health. In fact, there is so much plastic in our oceans that, without action, it is estimated there will be more plastics in our oceans than fish, by 2050. This global problem requires action, and Canada is working with international partners to see our oceans protected from waste and the impacts of climate change. As Canadatakes on the G7 presidency in 2018, we will continue to advance global efforts on climate change, oceans, and clean energy.”
– Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
“There is now evidence that some of these toxins on the microplastics can be transferred to animals that eat them, with potential harmful effects.”
The equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic waste is dumped into the world’s oceans every minute, equal to 8 million tons a year. New research suggests that 90 percent of that waste gets into the oceans through 10 major river systems.
The amphipods were contaminated with PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — toxic chemicals used for decades in industry, as well as other industrial pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants.
“Every sample we had,” Jamieson says, “had contaminants in it at very high or extraordinarily high levels.”