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Could we have underestimated microplastic pollution in the oceans ?

© Naja Bertolt Jensen/Unsplash

There are discoveries that we would happily do without and this is definitely one of them. Plastic pollution of the oceans, a real cancer of our planet, has obviously been underestimated. A study published in May in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin revealed that an incredible quantity of plastic microparticles was slipped through the cracks(that’s fair to say!). Invisible to the naked eye, these could have even greater impacts on marine ecosystems and human health than we thought.

Particles smaller and more abundant than previously thought

This research was carried out using a technique called Raman spectroscopy. This is an analytical technique that combines vibrational spectroscopy and microscopy to chemically detect and identify very small particles in environmental samples. The reality it reveals is more than alarming: microplastic pollution in the oceans is much more significant than traditional methods had suggested.

Samples were collected from three distinct ocean regions: the northeastern coast of Venezuela, the Gulf Stream Current, and the Pacific Arctic Ocean. Traditional methods, such as plankton nets, only capture microplastic particles larger than 300 micrometers. However, Raman spectroscopy made it possible to detect much smaller particles, of which 60% measured less than five micrometers, i.e. a size slightly smaller than that of ;#8217;a human red blood cell. A fraction largely neglected by most studies on marine microplastics.

This sad discovery therefore underlines the urgency of looking as quickly as possible at much more advanced detection and analysis methodsin order to study the extent of the damage caused by human activity on the oceans.

A poison for marine and human health

These particles contain dangerous chemicals, which, by accumulating in the food chain, eventually land one day where the other on our plates. Particularly through the consumption of seafood. Analyzes revealed that the most common polymers in these microplastics are polypropylene, polystyrene and polyethylene. Or substances that you absolutely do not want to find in your stomach because of their toxic effects. They act as powerful endocrine disruptors and can seriously harm your health by affecting your hormonal and immune systems.

« The health risks associated with exposure to microplastics remain largely unknown, and it is essential to conduct in-depth research to assess the impacts of microplastics of different shapes, sizes and compositions ” emphasizes Jaymie Meliker, professor in the public health program at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook. The specialist therefore calls for greater mobilization of public health research on microplastics, in particular those which could end up in the human body via seafood , other food sources or liquids in plastic bottles.

A scientific and ecological challenge

The proliferation of microplastics in the oceans represents a major challenge for researchers. Indeed, most oceans are still largely undersampled, and the existing data comes mainly from studies using nets towed behind boats. A limited method, which does not capture the smallest, less floating particles of microplastics.

In order to establish distribution patterns of these pollutants in the entire ocean, we must first understand their transport sources as well as their final accumulation locations. The difficulty in collecting accurate data on microplastics in the deep ocean and in under-sampled areas is a real obstacle. A hindrance which limits our understanding of the scale of the phenomenon and its true ecological impact.

Beyond’ stricter regulations regarding plastic pollution, it is now imperative to develop more precise models to predict the dispersion of microplastics in marine currents and ocean ecosystems. The task is daunting and will necessarily require concerted actions to be carried out in the long term. NGOs, researchers, governments and private sector players must work hand in hand to develop viable solutions. A little over 100 years after the invention of Bakelite (the first entirely synthetic plastic), we are faced with an environmental crisis from which it will be very difficult to resolve. No doubt about it, we have a real gift for self-sabotage.

  • Une new study has revealed that we have underestimated the quantity and size of microplastics present in the oceans.
  • These microplastics represent a real danger both for the ’ Humans than for animal species.
  • We lack truly usable data to understand the scale that this pollution represents.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116