99% of Ocean Plastic Is AWOL

Bad news: It's probably entering our food chain
By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2014 9:41 AM CDT
Updated Jul 5, 2014 11:00 AM CDT
99% of Ocean Plastic Is AWOL
This Aug. 11, 2009 file image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows a patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean.   (AP Photo/ Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mario Aguilera, File)

Millions of tons of plastic thought to be floating around the world’s oceans have gone missing. But that's not the good news one might think. According to a new study, marine animals could be ingesting our garbage, reports the Verge. Up to 99% of the most microscopic plastic particles in the ocean is missing, says a study co-author. Science Mag reports that they went looking for it between 2010 and 2011 around five large ocean gyres—the most famous such island of waste is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—and augmented their search with studies of 3,070 samples from other expeditions, according to LiveScience. What did they find? That there is at most 40,000 tons of plastic in our oceans, even though humans produce 300 million tons of plastic a year, and 0.1% of that ends up in the oceans via rivers, floods, storms, or ships, says Science Mag.

The ocean’s plastics are microscopic—ground to tiny pieces by waves and solar radiation until it looks like fish food. A scientist not associated with the study says it’s "indisputable" that lanternfish and other small fish are eating the plastic—and it’s impossible to know exactly how much. These small fish, which are likely ingesting toxins like DDT, PCBs, or mercury, are then gobbled by commercial fish. “We are part of this food web,” says a study co-author. Scientists say further research is needed, especially since estimates about how much plastic is entering the ocean is 50 years old. (Some of our plastic is even turning into rocks.)

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