World’s oceans clogged by millions of tons of plastic trash

Source: Reuters

The world’s oceans are clogged with plastic debris, but how much of it finds its way into the seas annually? Enough to place the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic trash on every foot (30 cm) of every nation’s coastline around the globe.

That’s according to scientists who released research on Thursday estimating that a staggering 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year from the world’s 192 coastal countries based on 2010 data.

Based on rising waste levels, they estimated that more than 9 million tons would end up in the oceans in 2015.

Experts have sounded the alarm in recent years over how plastic pollution is killing huge numbers of seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and other creatures while sullying ocean ecosystems.

China was responsible for the most ocean plastic pollution per year with an estimated 2.4 million tons, about 30 percent of the global total, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The United States was the only rich industrialized nation in the top 20, and it ranked No. 20. Coastal EU nations combined would rank 18th.

The trash encompasses just about anything imaginable made of plastic including shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers, fishing gear, cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats.

“In short, you name it and it is probably somewhere in the marine environment,” said Kara Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography with the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association.

The estimates were based on information including World Bank data for trash generated per person in all nations with a coastline, coastal population density, the amount of plastic waste countries produce and the quality of their waste-management practices.

“I think this is a wake-up call for how much waste we produce,” said University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck.

The researchers calculated that 275 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the 192 coastal countries that year, with an estimated 8 million tons entering the ocean and a possible range between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons.

“The most pressing need is to capture plastic waste to prevent it from entering the environment,” Law said. “This means investing in waste management infrastructure, especially in those countries with rapidly developing economies.”

“In high-income countries, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic waste, that we produce,” she added.

The research was published in the journal Science.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Plastic waste dominates seafloor litter in Mediterranean and Black Sea surveys

Source: Science for Environment Policy

Researchers have trawled coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for waste and found up to 1211 items of litter per km2. Plastic bags and bottles were some of the most commonly found items. They present the results in a recent study, which they say supports Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) implementation, as well as efforts to discourage plastic carrier bag use.

Marine litter has a range of damaging impacts. For instance, marine creatures can become entangled in floating nets or eat the litter. Floating litter can also transport non-native species into new environments and tiny plastic fragments, ‘microplastics’, have been shown to be long-term sources of pollutants, such as phthalates.

This study, conducted under the EU PERSEUS project1, assessed marine litter on the seafloor of five areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea — three gulfs in Greece, one gulf in Cyprus and one bay in Romania.

The researchers say this study highlights the need for action to tackle marine litter and is relevant to ‘descriptor 10’ of the MSFD. This is one of eleven qualitative criteria describing ‘good environmental status’ listed by the Directive and states that ‘Properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment‘. An important first step in satisfying this descriptor is to quantify marine litter. There is only limited information on quantities in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, however.

The study trawled the seabeds of the five areas for litter at a total of 94 sampling stations in early 2013. The researchers point out that rocky areas cannot be trawled, and that they focused on fishing grounds with sandy or muddy floors.

In total, 5398 items of marine litter were collected. The majority (3269) came from the Saronikos Gulf near Athens, where 1211 items were gathered per km2 of area trawled. The Limassol Gulf in Cyprus was the cleanest area, with 46 items collected and a litter density of 24 items/km2.

In all areas except the Constanta Bay in Romania, the majority of items were made of plastic. Nearly all (95%) items from the Saronikos Gulf were plastic, which exceeds the global average of 75%. Between 60-67% of finds in the Limassol Gulf, the Gulf of Patras and the Echinades Gulf were plastic. The figure was 45% in the Constanta Bay.

Half of all plastic items (49.6%) were bags. This result provides further support for the EU decision to reduce the use of plastic bags, the study says. Bottles accounted for 17.5% of plastic waste and sheets 13.5%. Fishing debris, such as lines and nets, contributed 6.7% of all plastic litter. After plastic, metals were the most common material, at 8.7%–22%, depending on the area, of items found. Glass and ceramics accounted for 6–22% of litter.

In all areas, over half (50.8–71.8%) of litter was between 5 x 5 cm and 20 x 20 cm in size. Small items, under 5 x 5 cm, also made up a significant percentage of litter, with ranges between 7% and 23%. Small fragments are a particular concern because they are difficult to remove from the sea, and are more likely to be ingested by animals or to transfer pollutants.

1. PERSEUS (Policy-oriented marine Environmental Research for the Southern European Seas) is supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme. See:

Source: Ioakeimidis, C., Zeri, C., Kaberi, H. et al. (2014). A comparative study of marine litter on the seafloor of coastal areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Seas. Marine Pollution Bulletin 89(1): 296–304. DOI:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.09.044.


Microplastics are taken up by mussels (Mytilus edulis) and lugworms (Arenicola marina) living in natural habitats


We studied the uptake of microplastics under field conditions. At six locations along the French–Belgian–Dutch coastline we collected two species of marine invertebrates representing different feeding strategies: the blue mussel Mytilus edulis (filter feeder) and the lugworm Arenicola marina (deposit feeder). Additional laboratory experiments were performed to assess possible (adverse) effects of ingestion and translocation of microplastics on the energy metabolism (cellular energy allocation) of these species. Microplastics were present in all organisms collected in the field: on average 0.2 ± 0.3 microplastics g−1 (M. edulis) and 1.2 ± 2.8 particles g−1 (A. marina). In a proof of principle laboratory experiment, mussels and lugworms exposed to high concentrations of polystyrene microspheres (110 particles mL−1 seawater and 110 particles g−1 sediment, respectively) showed no significant adverse effect on the organisms’ overall energy budget. The results are discussed in the context of possible risks as a result of the possible transfer of…

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Distribution and assessment of marine debris in the deep Tyrrhenian Sea (NW Mediterranean Sea, Italy)

Source: ScienceDirect

Authors: Michela Angiolillo, Bianca di Lorenzo, Alessio Farcomeni, Marzia Bo,
Giorgio Bavestrello, Giovanni Santangelo, Angelo Cau, Vincenza
Mastascusa, Alessandro Cau, Flavio Sacco, Simonepietro Canese


Marine debris is a recognized global ecological concern. Little is known about the extent of the problem in the Mediterranean Sea regarding litter distribution and its influence on deep rocky habitats. A quantitative assessment of debris present in the deep seafloor (30–300 m depth) was carried out in 26 areas off the coast of three Italian regions in the Tyrrhenian Sea, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The dominant type of debris (89%) was represented by fishing gears, mainly lines, while plastic objects were recorded only occasionally. Abundant quantities of gears were found on rocky banks in Sicily and Campania (0.09–0.12 debris m−2), proving intense fishing activity. Fifty-four percent of the recorded debris directly impacted benthic organisms, primarily gorgonians, followed by black corals and sponges. This work provides a first insight on the impact of marine debris in Mediterranean deep ecosystems and a valuable baseline for future comparisons.

The Impact of Polystyrene Microplastics on Feeding, Function and Fecundity in the Marine Copepod Calanus helgolandicus

Source: ACS Publications

Authors: Matthew Cole, Pennie Lindeque, Elaine Fileman, Claudia Halsband, and Tamara S. Galloway


Microscopic plastic debris, termed “microplastics”, are of increasing environmental concern. Recent studies have demonstrated that a range of zooplankton, including copepods, can ingest microplastics. Copepods are a globally abundant class of zooplankton that form a key trophic link between primary producers and higher trophic marine organisms. Here we demonstrate that ingestion of microplastics can significantly alter the feeding capacity of the pelagic copepod Calanus helgolandicus. Exposed to 20 μm polystyrene beads (75 microplastics mL–1) and cultured algae ([250 μg C L–1) for 24 h, C. helgolandicus ingested 11% fewer algal cells (P = 0.33) and 40% less carbon biomass (P < 0.01). There was a net downward shift in the mean size of algal prey consumed (P < 0.001), with a 3.6 fold increase in ingestion rate for the smallest size class of algal prey (11.6–12.6 μm), suggestive of postcapture or postingestion rejection. Prolonged exposure to polystyrene microplastics significantly decreased reproductive output, but there were no significant differences in egg production rates, respiration or survival. We constructed a conceptual energetic (carbon) budget showing that microplastic-exposed copepods suffer energetic depletion over time. We conclude that microplastics impede feeding in copepods, which over time could lead to sustained reductions in ingested carbon biomass.

Spatial pattern and weight of seabed marine litter in the northern and central Adriatic Sea

Source: ScienceDirect

Authors: P. Strafella, G. Fabi, A. Spagnolo, F. Grati, P. Polidori, E. Punzo, T. Fortibuoni, B. Marceta, S. Raicevich, I. Cvitkovic, M. Despalatovic, G. Scarcella


The present study analyzes spatial distribution and typology of marine litter on the seabed in the FAO Geographical Sub-Area 17 (northern and central Adriatic Sea). Two surveys were conducted during fall 2011 and 2012 and 67 stations were sampled each year. Litter items were collected using the “rapido” trawl, a modified beam trawl commonly used by the Italian fishermen to catch flat fish and other benthic species. Marine litter in the catches was sorted and classified in 6 major categories (plastic, metal, glass, rubber, wood, other). Plastic litter was further subdivided in 3 sub-categories based on its source: fishing nets, aquaculture nets and other. Plastic was dominant in terms of weight followed by metal and other categories. The highest concentration of litter was found close to the coast likely as a consequence of high coastal urbanization, river inflow and extensive navigation associated with the morphological and hydrological features of the basin.

Modelling the transport and accumulation of floating marine debris in the Mediterranean basin

Source: Science Direct

Authors: J. Mansui, , A. Molcard, Y. Ourmières


In the era of plastic and global environmental issues, when large garbage patches have been observed in the main oceanic basins, this work is the first attempt to explore the possibility that similar permanent accumulation structures may exist in the Mediterranean Sea. The questions addressed in this work are: can the general circulation, with its sub-basins scale gyres and mesoscale instabilities, foster the concentration of floating items in some regions? Where are the more likely coastal zones impacted from open ocean sources?

Multi-annual simulations of advected surface passive debris depict the Tyrrhenian Sea, the north-western Mediterranean sub-basin and the Gulf of Sirte as possible retention areas. The western Mediterranean coasts present very low coastal impact, while the coastal strip from Tunisia to Syria appears as the favourite destination. No permanent structure able to retain floating items in the long-term were found, as the basin circulation variability brings sufficient anomalies.