A new study estimates there are close to 270,000 tons of plastic floating in the oceans of the world, or the equivalent of 38,000 African elephants in terms of weight.
The study, published this week in PLOS ONE, said the plastic is broken up into at least five trillion pieces. The study is the latest in a field where researchers are trying to better understand the amount of synthetic material in the oceans and how it affects the ecosystem, according to the Huffington Post.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Capt. Charles Moore” author_title=”Study co-author and founder of marine education group Algalita”]
It’s the first worldwide assessment of the plastic plague infecting our precious oceans. As such, it’s an important first step to bringing awareness that the entire ocean is a plastic soup.
To gather data for the study, researchers dragged a mesh net at the sea surface to gather small pieces of floating plastic while individuals on boats counted larger floating items. Computer models were then used to calculate estimates for areas of the ocean not surveyed, according to CBS News.
Only floating plastic was measured in the study, not plastic on the floor of the ocean.
According to study co-authors Marcus Eriksen and Charles Moore, a third of the plastic was found in the North Pacific but a growing amount is being found in hot spots in Asia like the China Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
The research teams were surprised to find far fewer samples than expected, or about 1/100th as many plastic particles as their models predicted. According to Eriksen, this is likely due to smaller bits getting swept deep into the sea or being consumed by marine organisms, according to the New York Times.
Of the plastic surveyed, 92% is considered micro-plastics, or particles smaller than grains of rice.