The scourge of ocean microplastics

Tiny particles of plastic (less than 1 mm diameter) are now entering the human food-chain through our consumption of seafood.

The issue of plastics reaching the ocean is not new, but over the past few years our understanding of the impacts has increased dramatically. A 2014 study showed that Europeans consume approximately 11,000 microplastic particles per year from mussels and oysters alone. This was one of the first studies to actually quantify how much plastic from the oceans may make its way into our food-chain. In terms of the overall quantity, New Scientist reports that millions of tonnes of plastic are washed into the ocean each year. In 2010 an estimated 4.7 million to 12.7 million tonnes entered oceans around the world.

Eunomia Marine Litter v8
Infographic from Eunomia outlining sources and sinks of plastics to the ocean.

Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton continue to pioneer research in this area. The problem starts with the consumer trend for microplastics – whether they be in facial scrubs, toothpaste, abrasive cleaners and much more. In response to the growing trend, the UK government has announced that legislation will be introduced this year to put the ban of microbeads in place, in a bid to cut plastic pollution in our oceans and protect our sea life.

There is still much more work to do, but for now, take a look at this talk from Dr Simon Boxall at The University of Southampton outlining a bit more of the problem.

 


Dr Sebastian Pitman is a researcher in coastal morphodynamics at the University of Southampton. Take a look at some of his research here.

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