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Oceanic microplastics: the implications of tiny pollution

My classmate Dom Lawler deserves most of the credit for producing this video on microplastics, made in less than four days using iMovie for a university assignment on aquatic pollution.

Check the film out and watch some other related one on YouTube if it sparks your interest.

Here’s some quick details on the plastic pollution issue:

– 10% of the 280 million tonnes of plastic produced annually worldwide ends up in the ocean, contributing to 60−80% of all marine debris (Kaposi et al. 2014)

– First reports of plastic litter in the ocean were in the 1970s (Andrady 2011)

– Plastics could take centuries to completely mineralise or biodegrade (Moore 2008)

– 10% of all static fishing gear – including plastic nets, fishing line and ropes  – is lost worldwide (FAO 1991)

– In the environmental context, microplastics are regarded as pieces of plastic debris less than 5mm in size

– Studies have found that 267 species of marine organisms worldwide are known to have been affected by plastic debris, a number that will increase as smaller organisms are assessed. (Moore 2008)


References (and other useful video sources)

Plastic Oceans, broadcast on Catalyst, ABC TV1, 6 September 2012:

Plankton film clip: Ren Kyst, Norway

Plastic planet:

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), Canada, 1991. In: Smith, A. (Ed.), Report of the Expert Consultation on the Marking of Fishing Gear, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 14–19 July, 1991.

Moore, CJ 2008, ‘Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: A rapidly increasing, long-term threat’, Environmental Research, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 131-9.

Andrady, AL 2011, ‘Microplastics in the marine environment’, Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 8, pp. 1596-605.

Kaposi, KL, Mos, B, Kelaher, BP & Dworjanyn, SA 2014, ‘Ingestion of microplastic has limited impact on a marine larva’, Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 1638-45.



Collapsing seas – the reality of our ocean’s plight

This is a sobering graphic on overfishing, trawler seafloor damage and the effect climate change is having on the oceans. Even where I sit writing this in Phuket, the volume of local seafood I’ve seen laid out on ice beds at the front of fancy restaurants makes me wonder what effect the tourist trade has on fish stocks in the Andaman Sea and beyond.

Where do our plastics come from and how do they affect the ocean?

Courtesy of One World One Ocean

Large version here: OWOO_PlasticsBreakdown

Thanks to One World One Ocean for this great graphic, showing the (mainly northern hemisphere-related) ways plastic enter our ocean and how they affect sea life. I’m deliberately saying ‘ocean’ as they do because the global “oceans” are really one interconnected body of water (some of the seas are separate but usually have oceanic outlets).

We recently received printed shirts at university, with a logo on the back and motto of “All the water there will ever be, is“.
It’s easy to substitute plastic in there as well and that shows only the start of the problem: those scientists or home inventors who came up with the first early variants of plastic and the companies who pumped it out through their factories, didn’t consider how we were supposed to get rid of it. Recycling sounds like a solution for some plastic forms but it’s impossible to recycle the microscopic scraps of plastic floating around in the ocean.

It’s encouraging even in a small town like Warrnambool to see sustainability signs around and painted logos near drains, warning people not to drop rubbish in them. But it will take a serious, global effort to significantly reduce plastic production and use before we can really say the tide is turning on this problem.

Plastic is the new driftwood

After all the words that have been written about plastic’s deadly effect on the ocean (I previously mentioned some well-publicised examples which were tackled by Miriam Goldstein), the above photo shows one recurring feature on many of my recent beach walks: plastic bottles or buckets that have become home to colonial molluscs and barnacles.

Where once you may have seen pieces of driftwood from wooden ships or small boats wash up on the shore complete with barnacles attached, the plastic tide has given these creatures some new playgrounds to inhabit and use as transport.

It’s not the sight we want to become used to though and I suspect that anyone who tries to claim mollusc populations can benefit long-term from plastic production could be in the pocket of a big manufacturer.

Plastic Oceans has some simple and interesting fact pages on the issues involved, including this on the transport of invasive species:

The hard surfaces of plastic debris is providing an attractive and alternative substrate for a number of organisms.  The introduction of non-endemic species can have a catastrophic impact on indigenous species and biodiversity and the increase in synthetic and non-biodegradable material pollution will accelerate the process (Gregory, 2009)

Anyway, HAPPY OCEANS DAY! Hope those living on or near the coast took the time to get out there, do some cleaning up or at least talked to people about how important the oceans are to our survival.

Use Less Plastic

Every piece of plastic ever made still exists today, and much of this plastic has traveled from our hands to our oceans. The most important thing you can do is use less plastic. Join the Blue movement and sign the plastic pledge at

Director: Mariana Blanco
Animator: Sol Linero
Production Co: Hoodablah –

Song: “Pot Kettle Black”
Written by Kianna Alarid, Neely Jenkins, Derek Pressnall, Jamie Lynn Pressnall & Nicholas White
Performed By Tilly and the Wall
Courtesy Of Team Love Records By Arrangement With Bank Robber Music


The ‘plastic tide’ hits a local beach: when will people learn?

In a break from study, a few friends and I head drove 15 minutes down the coast to Killarney, just past the Tower Hill reserve I mentioned previously.

The aim was to dive for southern rock lobster at a less-popular spot than our usual dive haunts. This wasn’t the best day for it; not that I had the chance to get in the water as I found out that I’d left my mask and snorkel at home!

So it was a good chance to wander the beach for an hour and see what rubbish had washed up or been dumped in this area. I was inspired by Californian conservationist Sara Bayles (on Twitter @thedailyocean), who has committed to picking up rubbish on her local beach for 365 non-consecutive days.

Plastic’s not fantastic

I didn’t have scales to weigh this collection of plastic bags, ropes, butter containers and other discarded bits and pieces but the photos give a rough idea of what can be found in this 100m stretch of coast.

Just made me a bit angry as well – the bits of rope were obviously thrown out by recreational or commercial fisherman, as were the bait baskets (red mesh basket at right and black one at the rear of shot). Laziness (and obviously a lack of concern for where the rubbish ends up and what creatures it affects) must be the only reason for throwing away anything man-made into the ocean (or waterway).

If I found someone doing this, all I could ask is: how can you pollute a place that your income or just pure enjoyment comes from? AND how many pieces of plastic would you like to pick out of your fish once ‘microplastic’ becomes a normal part of a sea creature’s daily diet?

Mullet amongst the trash (disclaimer: my friend caught this fish but I thought it suited the topic well)

UPDATE: This link did the rounds on Twitter this morning so I had to post it, Lies you’ve been told about the Pacific Garbage Patch, from the always interesting io9 site.

Well-known authority on the matter, Miriam Goldstein (from Deep Sea News) helped to refute some of the myths around the Patch, including the popular one that it’s a huge floating… well, patch of garbage; that it kills most animals in the area and that it is “killing” the ocean. To grab a few choices quotes from the article:

“There are millions of small and microscopic pieces of plastic, about .4 pieces per cubic meter, floating over a roughly 2736 square km area of the Pacific. This amount has increased significantly over the past 40 years.”

“there is a class of creatures who are actually thriving as a result of the plastic influx”

“the plastisphere isn’t destroying the ocean ecosystem — the creatures who ride on the plastic are. We’re witnessing an ecosystem that is slowly falling off balance.”

Definitely worth reading the rest and looking at Miriam’s academic papers on the subject.

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