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July 12, 2011

Eating Plastic Like a Fish

UC San Diego researchers believe that fish that meander the northern waters of the Pacific ingest up to 24,000 tons of plastic a year. This figure probably shouldn't be so shocking considering about 7 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually. Even though the plastic problem in our oceans has been known for decades, research has a long way to go in terms of measuring its vastness and weighing possible solutions. But this new study is a good start as it "provides some concrete data on a phenomenon that has been hard to assess."

The research team, including the authors of the study, Peter Davison and Rebecca Asch, traveled across hundreds of miles of the North Pacific ocean gyre, collecting fish specimens, water samples and marine debris at depths ranging from the surface to thousands of feet under. Just over 9 percent of the fish caught during the expedition had small pieces of plastic in their stomachs.[...] They caution that the 9 percent figure probably underestimates the problem, as the findings do not reflect instances in which fish regurgitate or pass plastic fragments, or die from eating them. The main challenge, said Mr. Woodring of Project Kaisei, is that the infrastructure for proper waste management and recycling "simply cannot keep pace with the exponential growth of plastic in our daily lives."

On a related note, you should read our interview with Dr. Marcus Eriksen, an Algalita director and co-founder of 5 Gyres. (Check out his recent picture of an airplane wing retrieved from the deep blue.) Eriksen, who's been traveling to polluted gyres across the globe for years, describes these patches of plastic pollution as a chemical soup that stretches for as far as the eye can see. Click here to make a plastic pledge.

-- Brian Foley

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