found polluting the Atlantic Ocean
The myth persists: a plastic garbage patch
the size of Texas is fouling the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the
scope of the problem is far bigger, according to researchers
who have now found plastic pollution in four vast ocean regions
called gyres. The researchers are with 5 Gyres Institute, whose
crew completed a voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South
Africa during which they found prolific amounts of plastic pollution
on the world’s first such sail across the Southern Atlantic.
“We have confirmed our suspicion that plastic marine pollution
is a global issue, and not confined to the Northern Hemisphere,”
said Marcus Eriksen, Ph.D., co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute.
The 5 Gyres crew, along with their collaborators at the Algalita
Marine Research Foundation (AMRF), have previously discovered
plastic pollution in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Indian
Sailing 4,100 miles in one month, 5 Gyres researchers collected
67 samples from the ocean’s surface. “Every sample contained
small fragments of plastic,” said Anna Cummins, 5 Gyres co-founder.
And, as the crew neared the Southern Atlantic gyre, a vortex
where the detritus accumulates, “we counted hundreds of large
floating objects, including fishing buoys, nets, buckets, crates,
water bottles and construction hard hats.”
The problem elicits public outcry to clean up the mess, but these
researchers point out that there are no well-defined plastic
patches or islands to gather, and that the fragmented plastic
pollution is distributed globally.
“The garbage patches we discover are highly diffuse, perhaps
a little more than a handful of plastic particles scattered over
a football field,” Eriksen says. “But there are 315 million-square
kilometers of ocean surface in the world, so there are billions
of these football fields. Do the math, the product is staggering.
Practical solutions begin on land with improved recovery systems
and better product stewardship where producers factor in the
true environmental cost of their products.”
Crew member Chelsea Rochman, a UC Davis Ph.D student, will analyze
more than 80 fish collected on the voyage for the presence of
persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to investigate whether humans
are being harmed by eating fish that have ingested plastic debris
contaminated with these pollutants.
In 2011, the 5 Gyres Institute will investigate plastic marine
pollution in the South Pacific Gyre, another subtropical gyre
unstudied to date.