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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Oceans as Garbage Dumps

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, December 10, 2014/Categories: wildlife conservation, marine life, sustainability, environment

The online science journal, PLoS-1, and the  5 Gyres Institute  reminds us once again of the pitiful state of the world's oceans. In their new report, Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans  , the extent of toxic pollution caused by plastic dumped into the oceans is quantified for the first time. The findings and the numbers paint an ugly picture.

Key points from the new ocean's study include:

plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment; a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons float in the seas; through photo-degradation and  weathering processes, plastic "atomizes" and disperses throughout the oceans; the impact of plastic pollution includes ingestion and entanglement affecting marine fauna, ranging from zooplankton to cetaceans, seabirds, and marine reptiles; and the absorption of persistent organic pollutants onto plastic and their transfer into the tissues and organs through ingestion is impacting marine megafauna as well as lower trophic-level organisms and their predators in an ecosystem cascade.

Ocean Plastic sizes, 2007-2013 (credit: PloS-1)

The "atomization" of plastic into microscopic sized particles is an odious function of this pollution as it allows toxic chemicals to enter the the food chain. Large fragments of plastic like nylon fishing lines or plastic bottles can kill or mame marine mammals, turtles, and birds but microscopic plastic can absorb dissolved chemical molecules on their surface. Agricultural and industrial chemical runoff into the oceans---all products of hydrocarbon manufacturing---when ingested by fish and microbes they feed upon, can create an ecosystem "cascade". Chemicals like poly-biphenols, mercury, and a long list of others are  endocrine disruptors  that cause multiple, unwanted, and negative effects in developing organisms, including humans.

The PloS-One survey of ocean plastics didn't cover chemical analysis of tissues from fish like salmon or tuna. However, the next time you're at the market, ask the butcher is he is aware of the new pollution data on the oceans being used as a garbage dump.



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