May 24, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Plastic Pollution Causes ‘Tons’ of Problems as New Estimates Reveal Litter on the Rise

Dec 15, 2014 05:19 PM EST

While the biochemistry of the world's oceans may be a complex study, with a myriad of variants, researchers are certain of one simple fact-man-made plastics do not belong in the oceans. And the pollution of our oceans is far more vast than the world would like to admit. But in a new study recently published in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE researchers are saying that the Earth's oceans may contain more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic particulates, weighing nearly 270,000 tons combined which is far larger than previous studies ever estimated the pollution to be.

"Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions" lead researcher of the study, biologist Marcus Eriksen says. "Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world's oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres."

Because of its buoyancy and durability, the researchers explain that plastic pollution is a global threat to the world's oceans due to the fact that it can be distributed easily through ocean tributaries and across large expanses of adjacent waters. But even worse is that plastics have a natural absorption of toxicants when travelling through the oceanic environments, which lead the researchers to posit that the synthetic polymers may be classified as hazardous waste when they have anything to do with the world's oceans and the global health of the planet and its people.

Utilizing an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal, calibrated more specifically by the data the team collected on its 24 trips throughout the seven seas, the study was able to yield results that were highly accurate and with extremely high degrees of freedom, though the researchers insist that the extraordinary numbers are in fact a conservative estimate which is likely even greater in reality, though for certain there is no way of calculating an exact amount within the oceans.

In recent years research has pointed in particular to a field of pollution known as the "great Pacific garbage patch" for the congregation of trash that has accumulated in the same region of the Pacific Ocean, causing severe water pollution, and killing animals in the process.

"A lot of people hear the word patch and they immediately think of almost like a blanket of trash that can easily be scooped up" Dianna Parker, of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administrations, says. "But actually these areas are always moving and changing with the currents, and it's mostly these tiny plastics that you can't immediately see with the naked eye." Though the study did make use of visual observational data collected in large transects, researchers acknowledge that many particulates were far smaller than the mere human eye could discern, which makes their estimates even smaller than what the real tonnage is. Although often much research into plastics pollution of the oceans does not acknowledge the difficulty in identifying the significant amount of microscopic particulates, this study did in fact take those tiny particles into consideration-yielding a highly accurate model on which other researchers hope to continue to build.

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