The Oceans Contain 170 Trillion Pieces Of Plastic: Study 

By Outlook Planet Desk April 03, 2023

Microplastics are particularly detrimental to the oceans. They take a long time to degrade into innocuous compounds, and marine life mistakenly views plastic as food 

The Oceans Contain 170 Trillion Pieces Of Plastic: Study 
The concentration of plastic particles, especially microplastics, is consistently increasing in the oceans .

According to a recent study, there are already an estimated 170 trillion plastic particles floating in the waters around the world, weighing around 2 million metric tonnes. The study also stated that if urgent action is not taken, this figure might nearly quadruple by 2040. 

Peer-reviewed research on the topic, titled "A growing plastic smog, now estimated to be over 170 trillion plastic particles afloat in the world's oceans — Urgent solutions required," was completed by Lisa M. Erdle and Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute in California, Win Cowger of the Moore Institute for Plastic Pollution Research in California, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, and six other researchers. 

“The situation is much worse than expected. In 2014, it was estimated that there were 5 trillion plastic particles in the ocean. Now, less than ten years later, we’re up at 170 trillion,” Villarrubia-Gómez said in a statement.

Because they don't easily decompose into innocuous molecules and negatively impact the health of marine species that mistake plastic for food, microplastics are particularly detrimental to the oceans. Moreover, these particles have the potential to lead to biodiversity loss and endanger ecosystem balance.

Key findings 

The researchers used surface-level plastic contamination data from about 12,000 ocean stations across six major marine regions from 1979 to 2019 for their investigation. After that, they coupled this with information from their own missions. Lastly, the researchers developed a worldwide time series using computer modelling to determine not only how much microplastic is now present in the oceans but also how its concentration has evolved over time.

They discovered that there was a fairly wide range in the quantity of plastic particles between 1990 and 2005. This could be for a number of reasons, including the timely and successful implementation of significant policy measures.

As a result, the study noted that since the middle of the 2000s, the concentration of plastic particles, especially microplastics, in the ocean has risen and is still rising. Experts also warned that by 2040, the amount of plastic entering aquatic environments will have increased by 2.6 times if no severe measures are taken to address the problem.

Impact of microplastics on oceans and marine life

Microplastics have been found in marine species in recent research, including phytoplankton, whales, and dolphins, which may be harmful to these animals.

Moreover, microplastics have the potential to interfere with the ocean's natural carbon cycle. Typically, zooplankton consume phytoplankton, which absorb carbon, then excrete it as faecal pellets that settle to the ocean floor. 

How to reduce plastic in oceans? 

According to the authors of the most recent report, there is an urgent need to put into effect a global agreement to reduce the manufacture of single-use, throwaway plastic.