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Marine Litter Distribution and Density in European Seas, from the Shelves to Deep Basins

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      Anthropogenic litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote points in the oceans. On the seafloor, marine litter, particularly plastic, can accumulate in high densities with deleterious consequences for its inhabitants. Yet, because of the high cost involved with sampling the seafloor, no large-scale assessment of distribution patterns was available to date. Here, we present data on litter distribution and density collected during 588 video and trawl surveys across 32 sites in European waters. We found litter to be present in the deepest areas and at locations as remote from land as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The highest litter density occurs in submarine canyons, whilst the lowest density can be found on continental shelves and on ocean ridges. Plastic was the most prevalent litter item found on the seafloor. Litter from fishing activities (derelict fishing lines and nets) was particularly common on seamounts, banks, mounds and ocean ridges. Our results highlight the extent of the problem and the need for action to prevent increasing accumulation of litter in marine environments.

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      The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.

      The deleterious effects of plastic debris on the marine environment were reviewed by bringing together most of the literature published so far on the topic. A large number of marine species is known to be harmed and/or killed by plastic debris, which could jeopardize their survival, especially since many are already endangered by other forms of anthropogenic activities. Marine animals are mostly affected through entanglement in and ingestion of plastic litter. Other less known threats include the use of plastic debris by "invader" species and the absorption of polychlorinated biphenyls from ingested plastics. Less conspicuous forms, such as plastic pellets and "scrubbers" are also hazardous. To address the problem of plastic debris in the oceans is a difficult task, and a variety of approaches are urgently required. Some of the ways to mitigate the problem are discussed.
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        Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments.

        One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics. Within just a few decades since mass production of plastic products commenced in the 1950s, plastic debris has accumulated in terrestrial environments, in the open ocean, on shorelines of even the most remote islands and in the deep sea. Annual clean-up operations, costing millions of pounds sterling, are now organized in many countries and on every continent. Here we document global plastics production and the accumulation of plastic waste. While plastics typically constitute approximately 10 per cent of discarded waste, they represent a much greater proportion of the debris accumulating on shorelines. Mega- and macro-plastics have accumulated in the highest densities in the Northern Hemisphere, adjacent to urban centres, in enclosed seas and at water convergences (fronts). We report lower densities on remote island shores, on the continental shelf seabed and the lowest densities (but still a documented presence) in the deep sea and Southern Ocean. The longevity of plastic is estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years, but is likely to be far longer in deep sea and non-surface polar environments. Plastic debris poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing non-native and potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals and degrading to micro-plastics that may subsequently be ingested. Well-established annual surveys on coasts and at sea have shown that trends in mega- and macro-plastic accumulation rates are no longer uniformly increasing: rather stable, increasing and decreasing trends have all been reported. The average size of plastic particles in the environment seems to be decreasing, and the abundance and global distribution of micro-plastic fragments have increased over the last few decades. However, the environmental consequences of such microscopic debris are still poorly understood.
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          Microplastics in the marine environment.

          This review discusses the mechanisms of generation and potential impacts of microplastics in the ocean environment. Weathering degradation of plastics on the beaches results in their surface embrittlement and microcracking, yielding microparticles that are carried into water by wind or wave action. Unlike inorganic fines present in sea water, microplastics concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by partition. The relevant distribution coefficients for common POPs are several orders of magnitude in favour of the plastic medium. Consequently, the microparticles laden with high levels of POPs can be ingested by marine biota. Bioavailability and the efficiency of transfer of the ingested POPs across trophic levels are not known and the potential damage posed by these to the marine ecosystem has yet to be quantified and modelled. Given the increasing levels of plastic pollution of the oceans it is important to better understand the impact of microplastics in the ocean food web. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Center of the Institute of Marine Research (IMAR) and Department of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the Azores, Horta, Portugal
            [2 ]Laboratory of Robotics and Systems in Engineering and Science (LARSyS), Lisbon, Portugal
            [3 ]Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Barcelona, Spain
            [4 ]Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), Marine Biology section, Oslo, Norway
            [5 ]Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom
            [6 ]Norwegian Institute for Water Research, Bergen, Norway
            [7 ]Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Bremerhaven, Germany
            [8 ]GRC Geociències Marines, Departament d′Estratigrafia, Paleontologia i Geociències Marines, Facultat de Geologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Campus de Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain
            [9 ]Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre, Marine Institute, Plymouth University, Plymouth, United Kingdom
            [10 ]Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Texel, The Netherlands
            [11 ]Institut Français de Recherche pour l′Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), Bastia, France
            [12 ]National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton Waterfront Campus, Southampton, United Kingdom
            [13 ]OceanLab, Jacobs University Bremen, Bremen, Germany
            [14 ]British Geological Survey, Murchison House, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
            [15 ]Portuguese Task Group for the Extension of the Continental Shelf (EMEPC), Paço de Arcos, Portugal
            [16 ]Renard Centre of Marine Geology (RCMG), Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Gent, Belgium
            Bangor University, United Kingdom
            Author notes

            Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: CKP ERL CHSA TA MB MC JBC JD GD FG KLH VAIH EI DOBJ GL TM JNGP AP HS IT XT DVR PT. Performed the experiments: CKP ERL CHSA TA MB MC JBC JD GD FG KLH VAIH EI DOBJ GL TM JNGP AP HS IT XT DVR PT. Analyzed the data: CKP. Wrote the paper: CKP.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            30 April 2014
            : 9
            : 4
            24788771 4005782 PONE-D-13-34901 10.1371/journal.pone.0095839

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            Pages: 13
            This research was supported by the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007∧2013) under the HERMIONE project, Grant agreement (GA) no. 226354. The authors would like to acknowledge further funds from the Condor project (supported by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway through the EEA Financial Mechanism (PT0040/2008)), Corazon (FCT/PTDC/MAR/72169/2006; COMPETE/QREN), CoralFISH (FP7 ENV/2007/1/21314 4), EC funded PERSEUS project (GA no. 287600), the ESF project BIOFUN (CTM2007-28739-E), the Spanish projects PROMETEO (CTM2007-66316-C02/MAR) and DOS MARES (CTM2010-21810-C03-01), la Caixa grant "Oasis del Mar", the Generalitat de Catalunya grant to excellence research group number 2009 SGR 1305, UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of the Ecosystems of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the Sub-Polar Front and Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (ECOMAR) project, the Marine Environmental Mapping Programme (MAREMAP), the ERC (Starting Grant project CODEMAP, no 258482), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the Lenfest Ocean Program (PEW Foundation), the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform through Strategic Environmental Assessment 7 (formerly the Department for Trade and Industry) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through their advisors, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the offshore Special Areas for Conservation programme, BELSPO and RBINS-OD Nature (Belgian Federal Government) for R/V Belgica shiptime. The footage from the HAUSGARTEN observatory was taken during expeditions ARK XVIII/1, ARK XX/1, ARK XXII/1, ARK XXIII/2 and ARK XXVI/2 of the German research icebreaker “Polarstern”. The authors also acknowledge funds provided by FCT-IP/MEC to LARSyS Associated Laboratory and IMAR-University of the Azores (R&DU #531), Thematic Area E, through the Strategic Project (PEst-OE/EEI/LA0009/2011∧2014, COMPETE, QREN) and by the Government of Azores FRCT multiannual funding. CKP was supported by the doctoral grant from the Portuguese Science Foundation (SFRH/BD/66404/2009; COMPETE/QREN). AP was supported by Statoil as part of the CORAMM project. MB would like to thank Antje Boetius for financial support through the DFG Leibniz programme. JNGP was supported by the doctoral grant (M3.1.2/F/062/2011) from the Regional Directorate for Science, Technology and Communications (DRCTC) of the Regional Government of the Azores. ERLL was supported by a CSIC-JAE-postdocotral grant with co-funding from the European Social Fund. Publication fees for this open access publication were supported by IFREMER. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
            Research Article
            Biology and Life Sciences
            Marine Ecology
            Marine Biology
            Marine Conservation
            Marine Monitoring
            Earth Sciences
            Marine and Aquatic Sciences
            Ecology and Environmental Sciences
            Conservation Science
            Environmental Protection
            Engineering and Technology
            Environmental Engineering



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