#Microplastic - The Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme has found levels of plastic in areas of the Southern Ocean never before tested.
The groundbreaking data is set to be released today (Friday 18 May) at the Volvo Ocean Race Ocean Summit, which explores the issues and solutions to the plastic crisis, at the race stopover in Newport, Rhode Island.
The findings show that close to Point Nemo, the oceanic pole on inaccessibility, there were between nine and 26 particles of microplastic per cubic metre.
As the boats sailed close to Cape Horn, off the tip of South America, measurements increased to 57 particles per cubic metre.
Levels of 45 particles per cubic metre were recorded 452km from Auckland, New Zealand, where the leg began, and only 12 particles per cubic metre were found 1000 km from the finish in stopover city Itajaí.
The difference in measurements could be explained by ocean currents carrying the microplastics great distances, scientists say.
The highest levels of microplastic found so far — 357 particles per cubic metre — were found in a sample taken in the South China Sea, east of Taiwan, an area that feeds into the Great Pacific Ocean Gyre.
Dr Sören Gutekunst of the GEOMAR Institute for Ocean Research Kiel, funded by the Cluster of Excellence Future Ocean, analysed the preliminary microplastics data at the laboratory in Kiel, Germany.
“This is the first ever data that the scientific community has been able to analyse from a relatively inaccessible part of our blue planet,” Dr Gutekunst said.
“Unfortunately, it shows how far and wide microplastics have penetrated our vast oceans and that they are now present in what, until now, many have considered to be untouched, pristine waters.”
The measurements were collected on the 7,600-nautical-mile leg — the longest in the Volvo Ocean Race, from Auckland to Itajaí — by both Turn the Tide on Plastic and Team AkzoNobel.
The boats also collect other oceanographic data measurements including temperature, CO2, salinity and algae content, which gives an indication of levels of ocean acidification.
"It shows how far and wide microplastics have penetrated our vast oceans"
“Such information is extremely valuable as it helps fill in the large gaps in our understanding of how plastic breaks down over a number of years and is spread to the ends of the earth by ocean currents,” said Anne-Cecile Turner, sustainability programme leader for the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It’s also a stark reminder of the pressing need to tackle this plastic crisis head on and governments, businesses and individuals all have a role to play in addressing the problem.”
Point Nemo is so far from land that the nearest humans are often astronauts on the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth at a maximum of 258 miles (416km). Meanwhile the nearest inhabited landmass to Point Nemo is over 1,670 miles (2,700km) away.
Jeremy Pochman, co-founder and strategic director of Vestas 11th Hour Racing and founding principal partner of the Volvo Ocean Race Sustainability Programme, said: “For so long, we have treated the oceans as an inexhaustible resource.
“The data we find here from onboard the boats show that microplastics are found in the most remote places on Earth, a clear sign that all our oceans are under great pressure.
“This is open-source data, available to the public, and easily used to highlight the dangers of single-use plastic. It is one point of engagement in the conversation about solutions toward a circular economy.”
The information comes from the Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme, which has brought together an elite scientific consortium to capture data that will contribute to a better understanding of the world’s ocean and climate.
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.