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Plastic accumulation in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre.

Science (New York, N.Y.)

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      Abstract

      Plastic marine pollution is a major environmental concern, yet a quantitative description of the scope of this problem in the open ocean is lacking. Here, we present a time series of plastic content at the surface of the western North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1986 to 2008. More than 60% of 6136 surface plankton net tows collected buoyant plastic pieces, typically millimeters in size. The highest concentration of plastic debris was observed in subtropical latitudes and associated with the observed large-scale convergence in surface currents predicted by Ekman dynamics. Despite a rapid increase in plastic production and disposal during this time period, no trend in plastic concentration was observed in the region of highest accumulation.

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      Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?

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        Transport and release of chemicals from plastics to the environment and to wildlife.

        Plastics debris in the marine environment, including resin pellets, fragments and microscopic plastic fragments, contain organic contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons, organochlorine pesticides (2,2'-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane, hexachlorinated hexanes), polybrominated diphenylethers, alkylphenols and bisphenol A, at concentrations from sub ng g(-1) to microg g(-1). Some of these compounds are added during plastics manufacture, while others adsorb from the surrounding seawater. Concentrations of hydrophobic contaminants adsorbed on plastics showed distinct spatial variations reflecting global pollution patterns. Model calculations and experimental observations consistently show that polyethylene accumulates more organic contaminants than other plastics such as polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride. Both a mathematical model using equilibrium partitioning and experimental data have demonstrated the transfer of contaminants from plastic to organisms. A feeding experiment indicated that PCBs could transfer from contaminated plastics to streaked shearwater chicks. Plasticizers, other plastics additives and constitutional monomers also present potential threats in terrestrial environments because they can leach from waste disposal sites into groundwater and/or surface waters. Leaching and degradation of plasticizers and polymers are complex phenomena dependent on environmental conditions in the landfill and the chemical properties of each additive. Bisphenol A concentrations in leachates from municipal waste disposal sites in tropical Asia ranged from sub microg l(-1) to mg l(-1) and were correlated with the level of economic development.
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          Environmental implications of plastic debris in marine settings--entanglement, ingestion, smothering, hangers-on, hitch-hiking and alien invasions.

           Clare Gregory (2009)
          Over the past five or six decades, contamination and pollution of the world's enclosed seas, coastal waters and the wider open oceans by plastics and other synthetic, non-biodegradable materials (generally known as 'marine debris') has been an ever-increasing phenomenon. The sources of these polluting materials are both land- and marine-based, their origins may be local or distant, and the environmental consequences are many and varied. The more widely recognized problems are typically associated with entanglement, ingestion, suffocation and general debilitation, and are often related to stranding events and public perception. Among the less frequently recognized and recorded problems are global hazards to shipping, fisheries and other maritime activities. Today, there are rapidly developing research interests in the biota attracted to freely floating (i.e. pelagic) marine debris, commonly known as 'hangers-on and hitch-hikers' as well as material sinking to the sea floor despite being buoyant. Dispersal of aggressive alien and invasive species by these mechanisms leads one to reflect on the possibilities that ensuing invasions could endanger sensitive, or at-risk coastal environments (both marine and terrestrial) far from their native habitats.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            10.1126/science.1192321
            20724586

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