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New Data Reveals Higher Concentrations Of Ocean Microplastic Found Nearer Major Cities

26th March 2018
New Data Reveals Higher Concentrations Of Ocean Microplastic Found Nearer Major Cities

#Microplastic - Using data collected by Volvo Ocean Race team Turn the Tide on Plastic, marine scientists have identified 75 particles of microplastic per cubic metre in waters near Hong Kong and 87 per cubic metre along the coast near Melbourne.

Lower concentrations of 39 microplastic particles per cubic meter were found up the east coast of Australia, and values of 48 particles per cubic meter were found in South East Asian waters.

The highest levels of microplastic so far have been found in European waters where the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. A peak of 307 particles of microplastic per cubic metre was discovered there.

The tiny particles of plastic, which break down from larger pieces such as single-use plastic bottles, were collected using a state-of-the-art instrument by Turn the Tide on Plastic during the round the world race.

Dr Sören Gutekunst, of the GEOMAR Institute for Ocean Research Kiel funded by the Cluster of Excellence Future Ocean, analysed the preliminary microplastic data at their laboratory in Kiel, Germany.

“We are finding that the concentrations of microplastics increase when the samples are taken closer to higher density populations such as Hong Kong, and in areas where ocean surface currents tend to converge and concentrate marine debris, such as in the Great Australian Bight,” Dr Gutekunst said.

“The potential to model the data in combination with ocean current information will provide an exceptional insight into where plastic pollution is originating and accumulating.

“Regardless of where the data is taken, from remote parts of the ocean, such as the Antarctic, to areas close to major urban conurbations, we are consistently finding levels of microplastics which clearly illustrates how pervasive they have become.”

Microplastics are often invisible to the naked eye and can take thousands of years to degrade. By collecting information on their levels, the mission is helping scientists gain insight into the scale of plastic pollution and its impact upon marine life.

As part of the Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme, during four of the Volvo Ocean Race legs a total of 28 drifter buoys from the NOAA drifter program are being deployed by the vessels, at crucial oceanic regions to measure sea surface temperature and ocean current velocities. This will also help scientists understand how ocean currents could influence the movement of microplastic particles.

Team AkzoNobel are now the second team to have signed up to the Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme, helping capture valuable data from the remotest parts of our seas.

Both AkzoNobel and Turn the Tide on Plastic will be collecting data during the current 7,600-nautical-mile leg from Auckland to Itajaí in Brazil, a race that passes by some of the remotest stretches of ocean on the planet.

In January, it was reported that microplastic particles have been found even in waters close to Antarctica as revealed by data collected on the race’s third leg.

Now with two sets of data to compare, the findings are expected to be more robust and deliver a wider range of data, as the boats may follow different routes and therefore collect information from different parts of the oceans the race travels through.

This oceanographic data will provide important direct measurements to increase knowledge and future insights into ocean health and climate predictions.

“We know very little about exactly how much microplastic is contaminating our oceans so each new data sample is providing valuable information to further our scientific knowledge,” said Anne-Cecile Turner, sustainability programme leader for the Volvo Ocean Race.

“The Volvo Ocean Race provides an exceptional opportunity to directly sample remote areas and to shed light on the global scale and geographical distribution of microplastics pollution in the ocean.

“Having a second boat collecting information on the health of our oceans will only further enhance the quality of our Science Programme.”

Dr Paulo Mirpuri, president of Volvo Ocean Race principal sustainability partner The Mirpuri Foundation said: “We were not expecting microplastic to be found in the most remote areas of our seas like the Southern Ocean. This came as a complete surprise to us, the dream that we would still have pristine and plastic free seas somewhere in this planet is gone and means the problem is a lot bigger than our initial assumptions. We all need to take action right now and hope it is not too late.”

The Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme is funded by Volvo Cars, which is donating €100 from the first 3,000 sales of the new Volvo V90 Cross Country Volvo Ocean Race edition to support the initiative.

“Volvo Cars is delighted to be supporting this innovative programme, whose approach to environmental care is a strong fit for us - not least as we head towards an electric future,” said Stuart Templar, director of sustainability at Volvo Cars.

“We are keen to get an even clearer picture of the scale of the problem as the boats now head into leg seven and the most remote waters of the world. This sets an invaluable benchmark for future research and action.”

Published in Marine Science
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.


At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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