A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, May 5, 2017

This is how hundreds of tons of plastic trash end up in Arctic Ocean

Published in the LA Times by  Sean Greene Contact Reporter Environmental Science, May 2, 2017

Plastic fragments
A photo collage shows plastic fragments found in the Arctic Ocean. While plastic debris was scarce in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations in areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. (Andres Cozar)

Plastic trash is now so ubiquitous that researchers have found hundreds of tons of it floating in the Arctic Ocean.

It may not sound like much, but it’s a surprising amount given the area’s sparse population. The researchers who measured the plastic debris in the waters near the north pole described it as “widespread and abundant,” according to a study last month in the journal in Science Advances.

“We already knew that the marine plastic pollution was high at tropical and temperate latitudes,” said study leader Andrés Cózar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain. “Now, we also know that the plastic waste is extending up to the poles.”

Cózar and his colleagues estimated that 63% of the ice-free Arctic Ocean is “slightly polluted” with various types of plastic debris, including fishing line, microbeads and fragments of plastic products. Of the plastic trash that makes it to the Arctic, 95% of the plastic “dead ends” in either the Greenland Sea or the Barents Sea, north of Scandinavia.

Although the world’s other ocean “garbage patches” are significantly larger than the plastic accumulation in the Arctic, the average concentrations of plastic found there were comparable to those found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

In a 2014 study, Cózar and his team estimated those oceans contain 10,000 to 35,000 tons of plastic pollution, which almost never fully decomposes on its own. Their latest findings suggest 3% of that global total is floating in the Arctic.

The researchers estimate hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic pieces are floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean

In 2013, researchers aboard the Tara Oceans expedition who were working with Cózar sampled 42 sites of ice-free ocean around the Arctic Circle. Using mesh nets, they skimmed for bits of plastic floating on the surface and for debris suspended in the ocean depths.

Scientists lower nets into the water to collect plankton and microplastics.
Scientists lower nets into the water to collect plankton and microplastics. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)
In their analysis, the researchers estimated that between 100 and 1,200 tons of plastic is floating in the Arctic Ocean — a wide range to be sure, but one that could be narrowed with future study.

The vast majority of the debris was plastic fragments, including buoyant pieces of foam and manufactured items made from polyethylene and polypropylene. (The researchers estimated that 300 billion plastic items would weigh about 400 tons.)

The researchers also found fishing line and plastic microbeads, tiny granules that are added to toothpastes, facial scrubs and cosmetics. Microbeads are too small for the filters used in wastewater treatment plants, so when they’re washed down the drain they wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans, Cózar said.

The research team also found very few remains of plastic bags and wrappers. These types of plastic may be quicker to sink because their larger surface areas attract organism growth, which weighs the material down.

Over time, the sun causes plastic that’s floating on the ocean surface to degrade into tiny pieces called microplastics. The debris found in the Arctic was especially small, suggesting it traveled a long way to get there.

The different categories of microplastics found in the Arctic Ocean.
The different categories of microplastics found in the Arctic Ocean. (Andres Cózar)
'Extraordinary levels' of pollution have contaminated even the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean »

Currents in the Atlantic act as a ‘conveyor belt’ for floating bits of plastic

Due to the small size of the debris and the region’s low population, the researchers involved in the new study suspected that much of the Arctic’s plastic pollution must be coming from distant sources.

To test this, they retraced the debris’ possible path to the Arctic using data from 17,000 satellite buoys spread across the world’s oceans. The data revealed that floating plastic gets caught up in the North Atlantic in a stretch of a deep-ocean current called the thermohaline circulation.

The thermohaline acts as a global conveyor belt powered by the temperature and salinity differences between the warm waters near the equator and the icy Arctic Ocean.

Locations and plastic concentrations of the sites sampled. The white area shows the extension of the polar ice cap in August 2013, and green curves represent the North Atlantic Subtropical Ocean Gyres and the Global Thermohaline Circulation poleward branch.
Locations and plastic concentrations of the sites sampled. The white area shows the extension of the polar ice cap in August 2013, and green curves represent the North Atlantic Subtropical Ocean Gyres and the Global Thermohaline Circulation poleward branch. (Andres Cózar)

Ocean currents carry warm surface water into the Arctic via a “gateway” between Iceland and Scotland. When ice forms in the northern seas, the water that remains becomes saltier. This denser seawater sinks and flows back south, into the ocean basins near the equator.

As plastic pollution from the East Coast of the United States, northwestern Europe and the United Kingdom converges into a central ocean gyre in the Atlantic, the garbage accumulates on the surface and gets swept up in this slow-moving conveyor belt. It’s also possible, the study authors note, that busy shipping lanes between North America and Europe contribute some amount of plastic debris.

The floating plastic’s ports of call? The Greenland Sea and Barents Sea, which the authors called “a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt.”

In these areas, rising temperatures have reduced summer sea ice levels and created a layer of freshwater that seems to stop the advance of the plastic debris. However, it’s possible — depending on the density of the plastic items — that some of the debris could be forced toward the bottom of the ocean, Cózar said.

Since the “accumulation zones” in the Greenland and Barents seas are fed by drifting debris from lower latitudes, the amount of plastic pollution in the Arctic is likely to keep growing — even if Europe and North America managed to stop depositing trash in the ocean altogether. This will be especially noticeable on the seafloor, which Cózar called “the final destination” of marine plastic.

What this means for the Arctic

The accumulation of plastic in the ocean — especially in the Arctic — is a worrying sign, Cózar said.

“The range of marine plastic size is so wide that any organism, from plankton to whales, could ingest plastic debris,” Cózar said.

Many seabirds, for example, mistake decaying plastic for food. Animals that partake in a plastic-heavy diet could suffocate, or starve to death because they miss out on crucial nutrients.

Plankton and microplastics.
Plankton and microplastics. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)

On Norway’s Svalbard Islands, gull-like birds called northern fulmars feed by snatching prey from the water’s surface. Most of the fulmars sampled were found to have eaten an average 15 pieces of plastic per animal — a level that far exceeds the ecological goals set for the region.

In the Pacific Ocean, scientists found evidence of plastic accumulating in Antarctic fur seals that ate contaminated fish.

As climate change warms the Arctic and melts sea ice into open ocean, the conveyor belt of plastic will likely continue even further north.

“We have been using plastic for only a few decades, but the problem has reached a global scale in such a limited time frame,” Cózar said. “The production and consumption of plastic will likely continue to rise ... so this will become a global chronic problem without urgent actions to achieve a sustainable use of the plastic materials.”
A seal lies on an iceberg in front of the research vessel Tara.
A seal lies on an iceberg in front of the research vessel Tara. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)

Ocean plastic. Billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke donates high-tech vessel to the scientific community

Published in LifeGate 03 MAY 2017 by  ANDREA BAROLINI

The research vessel will be launched in 2020 and will be equipped with state-of-the-art technologies to control ocean plastic pollution. The project is in collaboration with WWF.

Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke announced on 2 May that he will fund the construction of a high-tech research vessel. The ship will be donated to the scientific community with the aim of detecting and monitoring the presence of plastic in oceans.

“I want to give something back to society”

Rokke is considered Norway’s second richest man, with 2 billion dollars of assets. “I want to give the lion’s share of what I have earned back to society. This ship is part of that,” he told daily newspaper Aftenposten. This move marks a turning point in his life. Indeed, Rokke made his fortune thanks to the fishing industry and, most of all, hydrocarbons.

nave norvegia plastica
The vessel that will be donated to the scientific community to control plastic pollution at sea ©Rosellinis four-10/Wwf Norway

The 181-metre-long vessel will host a crew of 30 people and a 60-strong research team. It will be built in collaboration with WWF and is scheduled to be launched in 2020. Thanks to state-of-the-art technologies aboard, the vessel will make researches on ocean microplastics easier. “This vessel will be able to take marine research to a completely new level. Finding solutions has never been more urgent,” said Nina Jensen, the head of WWF Norway.

Ocean plastic in the Arctic

The issue of plastic pollution in oceans, which is increasingly affecting marine life and ecosystems, has got back in the spotlight after the release of a study published in the journal Sciences Advances. The research confirms the presence of plastic debris in the Arctic Ocean and defines the area a dead-end for floating plastic.

Also, the study highlights how the presence of plastic in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans was previously assessed by detailed researches, but it has been confirmed off Greenland, North Cape and in the Barents Sea only now. In the Arctic there are smaller amounts of plastic debris than, say, in the Mediterranean Sea, but that doesn’t mean are less worrying.

rifiuti plastica mare

Plastic waste on a beach in Prestwick, Scotland © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Scientists suggest that the Arctic could be home to up to 1,200 tonnes of plastic debris. They still don’t know the impact plastic has on sea beds as they managed to assess only floating plastic, but they claim many debris have sunken or have been trapped in the ice cap.

Featured image: Norwagian billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke with Head of WWF Norway Nina Jensen ©Ilja C. Hendel/WWF Norway

Paradise Lost: Hawaii Home to One of the World's Dirtiest Beaches

Published in Sputnik news February, 5 2017

The tropical islands of Hawaii are known for its beautiful white beaches and crystal clear blue waters. It's hard to imagine that one of these picturesque far-flung holiday destinations is also considered to have one of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

Kamilo Point, a beach in the rural Ka'u district of the Big Island of Hawaii, is a wasteland according to experts. Despite its pockets of lava rock and beautiful natural wildlife, the ocean's currents are so powerful that the winds deposit thousands of pounds of man-made trash on the beach every year.

Kamilo, also known as "plastic beach," has been know to host hair brushes, cigarette lighters, shards of plastic as well as water bottles, all of which wash up on the beach every week.

Experts claim it's the graveyard for the world's junk and a powerful reminder of what plastic can do, if not recycled or discarded of correctly.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF), discovered that in one weekend alone in April, over 15,000 pounds worth of trash, nylon nets and fishing line was collected from Kamilo beach.

So why is there so much trash on Kamilo beach and where is it all coming from?

​Well, it appears the Kamilo is relatively close to the eastern Pacific garbage patch, which is part of the massive convergence of marine litter known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The easternmost concentration of trash is midway between the Californian coast and the eastern shores of Hawaii.

The trash that ends up on Kamilo beach is a result of oceanic and atmospheric pressures that push the items in the ocean — such as sea life, pollution and tiny pieces of plastic — into one general area.

According to Carey Morishige, formally of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations' Marine Debris Program, it is like a "soup of pollution," which includes plastic debris, that floats freely on the ocean's surface and then ends up on the beach.

As the most easterly island, Kamilo Point and the larger Ka'u coast on Hawaii island have always acted as the perfect colander for items drifting across the ocean.

Megan Lamson, a survey diver for the state's Division of Aquatic Resources, said that the area is prone to the collection of more rubbish due to the powerful currents.

"Kamilo itself means 'whirling, swirling, twisting currents," Lamson said.

Lamson also pointed out that Kamilo's pollution problem can only be handled at a global level.

"The solution is not to encourage more people to come to Kamilo to clean up. The solution will come with [humans] reducing our dependence to plastics, especially single-use items that we can do without."

And with an estimated 8 million metric tons of discarded plastics turning up in the ocean every year, experts say humans are the only ones who can stop it from pouring into the sea.