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Plastics in the Marine Environment

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Annual Review of Marine Science

Annual Reviews

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      Abstract

      Plastics contamination in the marine environment was first reported nearly 50 years ago, less than two decades after the rise of commercial plastics production, when less than 50 million metric tons were produced per year. In 2014, global plastics production surpassed 300 million metric tons per year. Plastic debris has been detected worldwide in all major marine habitats, in sizes from microns to meters. In response, concerns about risks to marine wildlife upon exposure to the varied forms of plastic debris have increased, stimulating new research into the extent and consequences of plastics contamination in the marine environment. Here, I present a framework to evaluate the current understanding of the sources, distribution, fate, and impacts of marine plastics. Despite remaining knowledge gaps in mass budgeting and challenges in investigating ecological impacts, the increasing evidence of the ubiquity of plastics contamination in the marine environment, the continued rapid growth in plastics production, and the evidence—albeit limited—of demonstrated impacts to marine wildlife support immediate implementation of source-reducing measures to decrease the potential risks of plastics in the marine ecosystem.

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      Lost at sea: where is all the plastic?

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        Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.

        Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.
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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

          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, 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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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543; email:
            Journal
            Annual Review of Marine Science
            Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci.
            Annual Reviews
            1941-1405
            1941-0611
            January 03 2017
            January 03 2017
            : 9
            : 1
            : 205-229
            10.1146/annurev-marine-010816-060409
            © 2017

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