Microplastics pollute even the most remote parts of the ocean, scientists warn

Microplastics pollute even the most remote parts of the ocean, scientists warn
By Emma Beswick
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After finding unexpected levels of microplastics in remote parts of the ocean, scientist Dr Sören Gutekunst rings alarm bells over the threat posed to sea life.


Traces of minute plastic particles have been found in one of the most far-flung and unchartered stretches in the middle of the South Indian Ocean, according to new data.

This is the first time that the area, located at latitude 45.5 degrees south, has been examined for microplastics and the levels much higher level than expected.

Between 41 and 42 particles were found per cubic metre.

"I find this surprising," Dr Sören Gutekunst, from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, who analysed samples told Euronews, "we found just 4 particles per cubic metre further west, which is what I expected to find in this area too".

Such high densities of microplastic particles can be harmful to marine life.

"This is a big issue for ocean health," said Gutekunst, "some fish fill their guts with plastic particles, which they are unable to digest, and they can't eat enough food anymore and then they die".

This data, however, is only preliminary and at the moment a single research vessel is collecting samples but when the crew reaches Aukland another boat will join them to collect more data.

Gutekunst believes the elevated levels of microplastics found in the South Indian Ocean could show a trend but said we don't have enough information about the accumulation of microplastics in the area, according to Gutekunst.

The findings could also be down to ocean currents which form a funnel causing microplastics to accumulate or a build-up of particles on the water surface, but more samples need to be taken to discern this.

Which areas are most affected?

The most elevated levels of microplastics were found in the Mediterranean and Northern Atlantic Oceans.

Gutekunst said, as expected, much higher values were found closer to coastlines, which he attributes to humankind.

Microplastics are a human-made phenomenon that can be caused by fishing net degradation, poor waste management in some countries or even beach tourists littering.

What can I do to stop microplastics reaching the oceans?

Gutekunst advises that we should start to live like older generations which were less inclined to use plastic packaging in every aspect of their lives.

"We have to deal with this problem as it won't disappear on its own and the plastics will remain in the ocean for some thousand years," he said.

What can the government do?

Right now Gutekunst says only a small amount of plastic waste is properly recycled, the rest is either burned, put in landfills or even put directly into the ocean.

This is where he says governments and communities can make changes, he said, emphasising that using no plastic at all was preferential to recycling products that had already been used.

Dr Sören Gutekunst carried out data analysis with lead investigator Dr. Toste Tanhua. The research was funded by the Cluster of Excellence Future Ocean.

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