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Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

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      Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world's oceans from 24 expeditions (2007–2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

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      Most cited references 41

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      Coefficients for sea surface wind stress, heat flux, and wind profiles as a function of wind speed and temperature

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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?


            Author and article information

            [1 ]Five Gyres Institute, Los Angeles, California, United States of America
            [2 ]Dumpark Data Science, Wellington, New Zealand
            [3 ]Marine Science Department, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, Hawaii, United States of America
            [4 ]Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, United States of America
            [5 ]Facultad Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile
            [6 ]Millennium Nucleus Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Island (ESMOI), Coquimbo, Chile
            [7 ]Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Coquimbo, Chile
            [8 ]Algalita Marine Research and Education, Long Beach, California, United States of America
            [9 ]eCoast Limited, Raglan, New Zealand
            [10 ]Departement Océanographie et Dynamique des Ecosystemes, Institut français de recherche pour l′exploitation de la mer (Ifremer), Bastia, Corsica, France
            [11 ]Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa
            [12 ]School of Environmental Systems Engineering and Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth, Australia
            University of Connecticut, United States of America
            Author notes

            Competing Interests: Jose Borerro is affiliated wih eCoast Ltd., and this affiliation does not alter the authors' adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials. Laurent C. M. Lebreton is affiliated with Dumpark Creative Industries Ltd., and this affiliation does not alter the authors' adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: ME LCML HSC MT JCB PGR JR. Performed the experiments: ME LCML HSC MT CJM JCB FG PGR JR. Analyzed the data: ME LCML HSC MT JCB. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: LCML JCB. Wrote the paper: ME LCML HSC MT CJM JCB FG PGR JR. Calculated plastic fragmentation rates: MT. Designed ocean model: LCML JCB. Contributed field data: ME HSC MT CJM FG PGR JR.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            10 December 2014
            : 9
            : 12
            25494041 4262196 PONE-D-14-20240 10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

            This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

            Pages: 15
            Financial support from the Will J. Reid Foundation (HSC) and Seaver Institute (ME) made much of this work possible. J. Reisser is sponsored by an IPRS and a CSIRO′s Flagship Postgraduate scholarship and M. Thiel was supported by the Chilean Millennium Initiative (grant NC120030). 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
            Earth Sciences
            Marine and Aquatic Sciences
            Aquatic Environments
            Ecology and Environmental Sciences
            Environmental Geography
            Environmental Impacts
            Environmental Protection
            Sustainability Science
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            The authors confirm that all data underlying the findings are fully available without restriction. These data are available at Eriksen, Marcus; Reisser, Julia; Galgani, Francois; Moore, Charles; Ryan, Peter; Carson, Hank; Thiel, Martin (2014): Plastic Marine Pollution Global Dataset. figshare.



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