Scientists have discovered an area
of the North Atlantic Ocean where plastic debris accumulates.
The region is said to compare with
the well-documented “great Pacific garbage patch”.
Kara Lavender Law of the Sea
Education Association told the BBC that the issue of plastics had been
“largely ignored” in the Atlantic.
She announced the findings of a
two-decade-long study at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon, US.
The work is the conclusion of the
longest and most extensive record of plastic marine debris in any ocean basin.
Scientists and students from the
SEA collected plastic and marine debris in fine mesh nets that were towed
behind a research vessel.
The nets dragged along were half-in
and half-out of the water, picking up debris and small marine organisms from
the sea surface.
The researchers carried out 6,100
tows in areas of the Caribbean and the North Atlantic – off the coast of the
US. More than half of these expeditions revealed floating pieces of plastic on
the water surface.
These were pieces of low-density
plastic that are used to make many consumer products, including plastic bags.
Dr Lavender Law said that the
pieces of plastic she and her team picked up in the nets were generally very
small – up to 1cm across.
“We found a region fairly far
north in the Atlantic Ocean where this debris appears to be concentrated and
remains over long periods of time,” she explained.
“More than 80% of the plastic
pieces we collected in the tows were found between 22 and 38 degrees north. So
we have a latitude for [where this] rubbish seems to accumulate,” she
The maximum “plastic
density” was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre.
“That’s a maximum that is
comparable with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr Lavender Law.
But she pointed out that there was
not yet a clear estimate of the size of the patches in either the Pacific or
“You can think of it in a
similar way [to the Pacific Garbage Patch], but I think the word ‘patch’ can be
misleading. This is widely dispersed and it’s small pieces of plastic,”
The impacts on the marine
environment of the plastics were still unknown, added the researcher.
“But we know that many marine
organisms are consuming these plastics and we know this has a bad effect on
seabirds in particular,” she told BBC News.
Nikolai Maximenko from University
of Hawaii, who was not involved in the study, said that it was very important
to continue the research to find out the impacts of plastic on the marine
He told BBC News: “We don’t
know how much is consumed by living organisms; we don’t have enough data.
“I think this is
a big target for the next decade – a global network to observe plastics in the