5.25 trillion pieces of plastic litter Earth's oceans

  • 04/07/2017
Interactive map revealed where in the ocean plastic pollution is most severe
Interactive map revealed where in the ocean plastic pollution is most severe Photo credit: Dumpark

Close to eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the Earth's oceans each year, endangering marine and human life.

An interactive map designed by New Zealand data firm Dumpark has revealed where in our ocen as the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic end up.

The 'Sailing Seas of Plastic' map visualises the estimated concentrations of plastic in the oceans as white dots on the map, each dot representing 20kgs of waste.

Millions of kilograms of waste litter the Earth's oceans.
Millions of kilograms of waste litter the Earth's oceans. Photo credit: Getty

The map shows large floating landfills when zoomed out, "but as you zoom in you realise the complexity of the issue. The ocean is quite a vast surface, and similar to a starry night, there are a lot of little bright dots," map researcher Laurent Lebreton says.

The North Pacific Ocean suffers from plastic pollution most severely, with an estimated two trillion individual pieces floating within its waters.

Total waste comes close to 87 million kilograms of waste, nearly a third of all ocean waste.

Particularly concentrated around China and Japan, the waste follows the North Pacific gyre, one of Earth's five major gyres, powerful ocean currents affected by wind patterns and the Earth's rotation.

The map shows the Indian Ocean is also heavily polluted, with 1.3 trillion pieces of plastic adrift in its waters.

Research has attributed as much as 60 per cent of the world's plastic pollution to just five countries, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, likely reasons those oceans are so polluted.

Young boy wades through ocean waste in Indonesia.
Young boy wades through ocean waste in Indonesia. Photo credit: Getty

The map is based on oceanographer Dr Marcus Eriksen's study, 'Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans', that states there is 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic polluting oceans.

Dr Eriksen's team partook in 24 expeditions between 2007 and 2013 across all of Earth's five major gyres.

The researchers crafted a statistical model of how plastic spread around the world's oceans after they took in 680 loads of plastic and noted down 891 visual assessments of floating waste.

"The plastic industry suggests the only solution is through our own efforts - recycling, incineration, responsible personal waste management," said Dr Eriksen.

"But the reality is that the industry itself needs a design overhaul - they should strive to recover 100 percent of their products, or make them 100 percent environmentally harmless."

Dr Eriksen and his team also investigated what types of plastic were most polluting the oceans.

Of the 5.25 trillion particles Dr Eriksen's team calculated, 92 per cent are microplastics, either broken-up bits of larger plastic items, or small pieces like facial scrub microbeads.

"Most of these microplastics are so small yuou can't really tell what they are," Dr Eriksen said.

"You drag a net through the ocean and come up with a handful of plastic confetti - particles the size of fish food."


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