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Research Finds Plastic Waste Has Doubled in European Waters in Past Decade

7th June 2023
The research shows a “steep increase” in marine plastic on Europe’s seabeds, with the number of plastic items detected per square kilometre in the northeast Atlantic increasing from 20 to 35 between 2012 and 2021
The research shows a “steep increase” in marine plastic on Europe’s seabeds, with the number of plastic items detected per square kilometre in the northeast Atlantic increasing from 20 to 35 between 2012 and 2021 Credit: EU Parliament

The amount of plastic in European waters has almost doubled in the past decade, according to newly published research.

The research shows a “steep increase” in marine plastic on Europe’s seabeds, with the number of plastic items detected per square kilometre in the northeast Atlantic increasing from 20 to 35 between 2012 and 2021.

The findings have been released by SEAwise, an international project working towards the effective implementation of ecosystem-based fisheries management in Europe.

The project’s report comes just days after UN talks on tackling plastic waste ended in Paris with an agreement to draft a global plastics treaty by November.

The research was led by the Italian research institute COISPA, and the SEAwise team analysed data from fishing hauls around Europe to estimate changes in the amount of litter on the seafloor over time and identify marine litter hotspots.

Data from the Baltic Sea through to the northeast Atlantic and from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean showed that plastic is “by far the most prevalent form of marine litter”.

It found that up to 90% of hauls in the northeast Atlantic and Baltic included plastic, with trawls five times more likely to bring up an item made of plastic than other waste materials such as glass, metal or rubber.

Plastic poses a threat to marine wildlife, most commonly by entanglement or ingestion – with the latter also having implications for human welfare, the project points out.

“Though mandated under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), measures for acceptable litter levels–or threshold values–are still lacking around Europe,” the report states.

Prof Dave Reid of the Marine Institute of Ireland, said that trawl surveys showed that in most areas (around half) the plastic litter mainly comes from commercial fishing activity.

The full report is available here

For more information about SEAwise here

Published in Marine Science Team

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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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