Ocean Contains Five Trillion Pieces Of Plastic, Will It Affect Your Dinner?

A comprehensive study of the ocean’s plastics has found that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic adrift in the sea and you might end up eating some.

Most of the pieces are tiny, measuring about five mm each, but they add up quickly.

The Guardian reports that the collective weight of the plastic rubbish is roughly 269,000 tonnes.

Julia Reisser, a researcher from the University of Western Australia, described the problem in some of the most garbage concentrated areas of the ocean.

“You put a net through it for half an hour and there’s more plastic than marine life there. It’s hard to visualise the sheer amount, but the weight of it is more than the entire biomass of humans. It’s quite an alarming problem that’s likely to get worse.”

According to some number crunching at the Washington Post, there are about 700 pieces of floating plastic sea trash for every man, woman and child on the planet. Most of the garbage is derived from plastic food and beverage containers.

And those five trillion pieces are causing problems throughout the food chain, from small fish to humans. According to the New York Times, the larger pieces of garbage tend to slowly break into smaller pieces, especially when exposed to the sun. Yet, researchers found few of the five trillion pieces were particularly tiny, like the size of a grain of sand. Although that may sound like a good thing, the truth is most of the pieces that size are quickly eaten by small fish.

Reisser said, “bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

According to Slate Magazine, the plastic attracts and becomes coated with other pollutants like PCBs, making the contamination threat even worse.

Other pieces are dangerous for large animals. Researchers found sea turtles eating plastic bags and seals being strangled with plastic.

Much of the garbage accumulates in five ocean gyres, such as the now famous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is roughly the size of Texas. The researchers believe that the gyres may aggravate the situation by acting as slow moving shredders for the garbage.

The problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. Currently only five percent of plastic around the world is recycled and production is continuing to increase.

The data for the study was derived from 24 expeditions over the course of six years from the U.S., France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.

The full study on the five trillion plastic pieces in the ocean was published by PLOS One and can be found here.

[Image Credit: Mark Wolfe/Wikimedia Commons]