With Earth Day just pass us, we are once again reminded of the dramatic impact of humans on the planet. Some years ago, the public was left surprised by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Now, further evidence has shown pervasive plastic pollution in the Arctic Ocean as well.
Tiny Plastic, Huge 300 Billion Plastic Pieces Problem
It’s estimated that plastic bags take around 20 years to decompose. Plastic bottles need some 300 years, and fishing lines almost 600 years to fully break down. However, plastic rarely decomposes completely in the ocean. Instead, UV radiation and friction from the ocean movement causes plastics to break down into increasingly tiny pieces.
Plastic pieces under 5 mm long are referred to as microplastics. While the image of a huge garbage island is beguiling, the truth is more insidious: microplastic pollution transforms into plastic soup.
Dense microplastics sink to the ocean floor to be consumed by marine animals. Less dense plastic pieces from products like plastic straws end up floating, swirling in the current. In some cases, there’s up to six times more plastic than zooplankton in the water.
Recently, it has been discovered that there are around 300 billion plastic pieces swimming in the Arctic Ocean, with more speculated to be on the seafloor. In the past, polar seas weren’t considered as heavily polluted areas because of their distance from human populations. However, the study found that the Arctic sea has become a dead end for plastic coming, most possibly, from North America.
The modern world is reliant upon plastic, and we’re using more than we can adequately dispose of. Around 8 million tons of plastics end up in the ocean each year. The 300 billion microplastics in the Arctic seas are just another sign of the future we’re blissfully marching towards– an ocean populated with more plastic than fish by 2050.
Image Source: Wikimedia