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Plastic in the ocean reaches an all-time high at 171 trillion pieces

Scientists estimate that there are more than 171 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world's oceans, posing a serious threat to marine life. The concentration of plastics in the oceans has taken a huge leap from 16 trillion pieces in 2005, and this number could nearly triple by 2040 if no action is taken, according to the researchers. Plastic waste takes hundreds of years to break down into less harmful materials, and if not dealt with, can wipe out fish and sea animal populations.


Plastic waste is made up of both recently discarded plastics and older pieces that have broken down. Single-use plastics like bottles, packaging, fishing equipment, or other items break down over time into smaller fragments due to sunlight or mechanical degradation. This waste harms wildlife like whales, seabirds, turtles, and fish, which mistake plastic for their prey and can die of starvation as plastic fills their stomachs. Microplastics have been found in human lungs, veins, and the placenta, and while the adverse effects on human health are still being researched, scientists warn of the potential risks.


To produce the new estimate, scientists analyzed records beginning in 1979 and added recent data on expeditions that trawl the seas with nets to collect plastics. The plastic counted in nets is then added to a mathematical model to produce a global estimate. The highest concentration of ocean plastic is currently in the Mediterranean Sea, with some large floating masses found elsewhere.


Scientists say that solutions must focus on reducing the amount of plastic produced and used, rather than cleaning up oceans and recycling plastics because this is less likely to stop the overall flow of pollution. They suggest that the changing levels of pollution before 2000 may be due to the effectiveness of treaties or policies that govern pollution. The recent historic UN High Seas treaty in particular aims to protect 30% of the oceans, a step towards addressing the plastic waste problem. However, when tackling issues as global as this, it is important to make sure we as citizens of the Earth are doing our due diligence in keeping our waters clean.




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