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The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris

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      Abstract

      Marine debris, mostly consisting of plastic, is a global problem, negatively impacting wildlife, tourism and shipping. However, despite the durability of plastic, and the exponential increase in its production, monitoring data show limited evidence of concomitant increasing concentrations in marine habitats. There appears to be a considerable proportion of the manufactured plastic that is unaccounted for in surveys tracking the fate of environmental plastics. Even the discovery of widespread accumulation of microscopic fragments (microplastics) in oceanic gyres and shallow water sediments is unable to explain the missing fraction. Here, we show that deep-sea sediments are a likely sink for microplastics. Microplastic, in the form of fibres, was up to four orders of magnitude more abundant (per unit volume) in deep-sea sediments from the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean than in contaminated sea-surface waters. Our results show evidence for a large and hitherto unknown repository of microplastics. The dominance of microfibres points to a previously underreported and unsampled plastic fraction. Given the vastness of the deep sea and the prevalence of microplastics at all sites we investigated, the deep-sea floor appears to provide an answer to the question—where is all the plastic?

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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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          Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum , Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
            [2 ]GRC Geociències Marines, Departament d’ Estratigrafia, Paleontologia i Geociències Marines, Universitat de Barcelona , 08028 Barcelona, Spain
            [3 ]Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University , Plymouth, Devon PL4 8 AA, UK
            [4 ]Department of Zoology, University of Oxford , Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
            [5 ]The Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute , Oban, Argyll PA37 1QA, UK
            Author notes
            Author for correspondence: Richard C. Thompson e-mail: r.c.thompson@ 123456plymouth.ac.uk
            Journal
            R Soc Open Sci
            R Soc Open Sci
            RSOS
            royopensci
            Royal Society Open Science
            The Royal Society Publishing
            2054-5703
            December 2014
            17 December 2014
            17 December 2014
            : 1
            : 4
            4448771
            10.1098/rsos.140317
            rsos140317
            © 2014 The Authors.

            Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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            Categories
            1001
            69
            Earth Science
            Custom metadata
            December, 2014

            marine, litter, plastic, fibres, seabed, microplastic

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