Thursday 29th of October 2020

plastic bits in fishes...



The bottom of Sydney Harbour has been contaminated by widespread microplastic pollution which could be entering the food chain, scientists say.

Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science said the microplastics, or fragments of plastic less than five millimetres long, represented the "emergence of new contaminants in our harbours and waterways".

In the first study of its kind, 27 sites were tested across the harbour, with researchers discovering up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment.

The environmental effects of the contaminants are largely unknown, but there have been moves to ban their use in products overseas.

Professor Johnston said some of the microplastic contamination was coming directly into the harbour.

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There is a rising concern regarding the accumulation of floating plastic debris in the open ocean. However, the magnitude and the fate of this pollution are still open questions. Using data from the Malaspina 2010 circumnavigation, regional surveys, and previously published reports, we show a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the open ocean, mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of each of the five subtropical gyres with comparable density. However, the global load of plastic on the open ocean surface was estimated to be on the order of tens of thousands of tons, far less than expected. Our observations of the size distribution of floating plastic debris point at important size-selective sinks removing millimeter-sized fragments of floating plastic on a large scale. This sink may involve a combination of fast nano-fragmentation of the microplastic into particles of microns or smaller, their transference to the ocean interior by food webs and ballasting processes, and processes yet to be discovered. Resolving the fate of the missing plastic debris is of fundamental importance to determine the nature and significance of the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean.

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Picture at top by Gus: Glebe, Sydney Harbour, Australia...


inbuilt obsolescence in plastic for profit...

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One of the most insidious plastics in this are the bio-degradables... Because they degrade into small bits. They do not really dissolve. Most plastics degrade nonetheless but they do not DECOMPOSE, unlike other bio-stuff into recyclable life molecules... Some of these plastic are also low grade — like polyethylene that do not have any resistance to sunlight, thus break up into small bits unless other chemicals are added. 

Some plastics items are also made "brittle" in order to increase obsolescence and increase the production of plastics for profit...

ban the microbeads...


Plastic pollution in the marine environment is a “critical problem” for global ecosystems and for human health as microscopic pieces of waste enter the food chain, an Australian Senate inquiry has been told.

The warning came as Guardian Australia learned the federal health minister has the power to instantly ban controversial plastic microbeads from products like soap and toothpaste without any new legislation, according to official parliamentary advice.

Marine biologist Jennifer Lavers told the first day of the inquiry in Sydney on Thursday that she discovered more than one in 10 young flesh-footed shearwater birds – common visitors to Australian coasts – were dying from ingesting plastic or from plastic chemical contamination. “This would be happening in other species as well,” she said.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who instigated the inquiry, said the issue of plastic pollution in water was one of the main reasons he got into politics.

“I’ve been a surfer all my life, it’s probably my key passion,” he said. “It’s such a massive problem you don’t even know where to start. But I was determined to get started and that’s one of the reasons I went into parliament.”

A marine microbiologist, Mark Browne from the University of New South Wales, told the inquiry that plastic debris, particularly microplastics, has been recognised as a “critical problem for global conservation and human health” by the UN, European Union, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and CSIRO.

Much of this rubbish accumulates in large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that collect plastics in a particular area. Each major ocean has a plastic-filled gyre.

Large pieces of plastic are known to kill marine life including fish, turtles and birds.

But a particularly harmful form of plastic pollution is microplastic, which cannot be easily seen by eye. Microplastics are pieces of plastic smaller than 1mm that can be consumed by many organisms and then accumulate in the food chain.

Microplastics are created as larger pieces of plastic pollution, like bags and bottles, but slowly break up into smaller and smaller pieces. They are also added directly as “microbeads” to many cosmetics including body washes, soaps and toothpaste to increase their abrasiveness.

In a submission to the inquiry, the Boomerang Alliance pointed to a study from 2014 that estimated seafood consumers in Europe eat up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year. Understanding of the effects of microplastics on human health is limited but they are known to deliver toxic chemicals including Bisphenol A (BPA) into the body, which could cause a range of issues including developmental and reproductive problems.

In the US, some states have banned microbeads in cosmetics and the House of Representatives passed a bill that will ban them nationally if passed by the Senate.

Last year, state ministers agreed to work towards a voluntary agreement to phase out microbeads by July 2018.

But advice to Whish-Wilson from the parliamentary library, seen by Guardian Australia, says the key mechanism that would allow microbeads to be banned in Australia is simply for the minister of health to do so with the strike of a pen. Under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act, the minister can list ingredients that are not allowed to be used in cosmetics – including soaps and toothpaste – that are manufactured or imported into Australia.


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inbuilt obsolescence in plastic for profit...

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the plasticrapeocene..

Teenage turtles like Cliff are lucky to be rescued, because many are dying after eating hidden plastic pollution in Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury River when they come in summer to feed on seagrass meadows.

The Taronga Wildlife Hospital is treating a juvenile turtle dubbed Clifton, because it was found at Clifton Gardens on the north shore.

Hospital manager, Libby Hall, said snorkelers discovered the turtle on December 28. It could not swim or feed because it had ingested plastic.

"He was found covered in barnacles. He had barnacles all over his eyes. All over his shell," Ms Hall said.


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using a big comb to remove plastics...

For a long time, though, no real progress was made. At one point, Hansch even came close to throwing in the towel, but then she agreed to give one last presentation. It could have been the last speech she ever gave on the subject, but during the delivery, she had an epiphany and realized just how important it had become to her. "It became clear to me that I couldn't just leave it behind," she says.

A short time later, Hansch and her fellow campaigners started a non-profit organization called Pacific Garbage Screening. The roughly 35 members of the NGO, including engineers, environmental scientists and biologists, are working towards the day when the platform can finally be deployed. They perform research on a voluntary basis and cover most of the costs out of their own pockets.

The university in Aachen continues to provide support for the project. Thesis papers are regularly written that contribute to the project's research foundations. A postgraduate position has also been funded by UBA, the German government's environmental protection agency. In 2016, Hansch and her team won the German Federal Ecodesign Award for the project, a prize awarded by UBA and the Environment Ministry. During the award speech, UBA Vice President Thomas Holzmann praised the project as being "both visionary and solution-oriented." 

'There's Enough Plastic in the Ocean for All'

There are several projects around the world pursuing goals similar to Hansch's. In the Netherlands, for example, Project Ocean Cleanup is hoping to begin fishing plastic out of the ocean later this year. Hansch says she doesn't view these other projects as competition. "There's enough plastic in the ocean for everyone," she says. Plus, the different teams talk and share ideas, allowing them to learn from each other. Still, her project is the only one that is focused specifically on microplastics, she says.


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too dead for fish to even eat the plastic bits...

Name: Point Nemo.

Age: First discovered in 1992 by survey engineer Hrvoje Lukatela.

Appearance: A load of water, surrounded by even more water.

How do I get there? I wouldn’t bother: the trip would involve a tremendous amount of effort for very little in the way of return.

So what’s the point of Point Nemo? It’s officially the oceanic pole of inaccessibility.

What does that even mean? It’s the spot in the ocean farthest away from land in any direction – in effect, the middle of nowhere.

And where is that, exactly? Point Nemo is located at 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, more than 1,600km away from three equidistant islands, including Easter Island.

That does sound a faff to get to. So much so that often the closest humans to Point Nemo are aboard the International Space Station.

What lives there? Is it teeming with deep-sea life? Not really. It sits within a current called the South Pacific Gyre, which steers away nutrient-rich waters, making it one of the most lifeless parts of the ocean.

Does Point Nemo have anything going on? Yes. Plastics.

Plastics? Up to 26 microplastic particles per cubic metre were found in seawater samples collected near Point Nemo by passing vessels taking part in the Volvo Open Race.

Was it left there by the guy who discovered the place? No. Lukatela “found” Point Nemo not by visiting, but by calculating its position using computer software. It’s just general plastic.

You mean the most remote point on the planet is polluted? I’m afraid so, although not as polluted as, say, the South China Sea, where they found 357 particles per cubic metre.


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the birds that eat plastic...

After 90 days the fledglings emerge from their burrows, stomachs bulging with plastic. They prepare for their first flight. Many are so malnourished they die outside the nest. Others make it to the beach, but their undeveloped wings flap in vain and waves engulf them.

Ian Hutton, a naturalist and museum curator on Lord Howe Island, pulls the bodies off the beach. Researchers slice open their stomachs to confirm the cause of death. Once, they found 274 plastic fragments.

“It’s so upsetting to think this bird has been reared by its parents, it’s been fed and it should have a chance to go to sea but it’s died,” he said.

‘When you cut the stomach open and pull out the plastic, some people actually cry when they see it.”


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32 per cent decline in Australian fishery catches...


The world’s oceans and all marine life are on the brink of total collapse




James Bradley

The end of the oceans

Vanitas of the Anthropocene. Plastic waste and the remains of coastal wildlife, Swansea Bay, Wales. Series by Jasmine Färling

The world’s oceans and all marine life are on the brink of total collapse

In June this year, scientists from the University of Tasmania and the University of Technology Sydney published research showing that over the past decade the biomass of large fish in Australian waters has declined by more than a third. The results may have jarred with government claims of Australian fisheries being among the most sustainable in the world, but they closely matched official figures showing a 32 per cent decline in Australian fishery catches in the same period. The declines were sharpest in species targeted for fishing and areas in which fishing is permitted, but even populations of species not exploited by fishing declined across the same period.

The notion that a third of large fish in Australian waters disappeared in just 10 years should be of profound concern to all. The health of marine food webs depends upon healthy populations of the predator species...

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invasion of the nurdle...


The word "nurdle" rarely enters everyday conversation, but these tiny lentil-sized pellets of plastic are at the centre of an impending environmental headache.

Key points: 
  • "Nurdles" are tiny, lentil-sized plastic pellets which form the base of all plastic products
  • A ship in South Africa spilt 2.25 billion nurdles into the ocean late last year
  • Many have already landed on WA's south coast, with warnings more will soon arrive


More than 2.25 billion of the miniature plastic spheres were spilt into the ocean from a ship off the South African city of Durban last year, and they have been creeping their way to Australian shores ever since. 

The University of Western Australia has now started a project to determine how many nurdles have washed up, and to paint a clearer picture of who is responsible for the contamination.

Project leader Harriet Paterson said nurdles were the base ingredient for all plastics.

"A nurdle is, well it's virgin plastic — so it's the plastic that's made in the petrochemical plant, and then it gets put in a container or various bags and things, and then they get shipped all over the world to make everything we use," Dr Paterson said.


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plastic bids in our brains...

DER SPIEGEL: Plastic contamination of the environment seems to have reached epidemic levels. Of particular concern are tiny microplastic particles. Can these be a threat to human health?

Waring: I think we are left with a definite maybe. A key problem with plastics is that they are essentially indestructible. Rather than being biodegraded, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microscopic fragments. These can enter the human body either by inhalation or by ingestion. We don't really know where they go, but in some marine animals, such particles have been shown to accumulate in the brain, liver and other tissues. This could be a problem.

DER SPIEGEL: Where do these particles come from?

Waring: Microplastics come from many sources, for example from the breakdown of larger items, abrasion from tires, microbeads from cosmetics or synthetic clothing fibers. A standard 5-kilogram (11-pound) wash of polyester fabrics has been estimated to release up to 6,000,000 microfibers. Through surface runoff, manufacturing processes, agriculture or waste water treatment facilities, most of this ends up in the environment, for example in rivers, and is eventually lost to the seas. Extrapolations suggest that up to 250 million tons of plastic will be present in the oceans by 2025.

DER SPIEGEL: How are humans exposed to microplastics?

Waring: Filter feeders like mussels seem to readily internalize microplastics, because they are of the same size as their preferred diet. It has been estimated that European shellfish consumers could potentially ingest 11,000 microplastic particles per year. A lot of the plastic particles in the environment are present in the atmosphere and transported by the wind. When you breathe in air, microscopic plastic particles are inhaled as well. Salt and sugar, for example, have also been reported to be contaminated with plastic, as well as honey and German beer. The analysis of tap water and bottled water found that a high proportion of drinking water contains plastic fragments.



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planet plastic mess...

A mess of plastic

It is not clear what strategies will be most effective in mitigating harm from the global problem of plastic pollution. Borrelle et al. and Lau et al. discuss possible solutions and their impacts. Both groups found that substantial reductions in plastic-waste generation can be made in the coming decades with immediate, concerted, and vigorous action, but even in the best case scenario, huge quantities of plastic will still accumulate in the environment.

Science, this issue p. 1515, p. 1455


Plastic pollution is a pervasive and growing problem. To estimate the effectiveness of interventions to reduce plastic pollution, we modeled stocks and flows of municipal solid waste and four sources of microplastics through the global plastic system for five scenarios between 2016 and 2040. Implementing all feasible interventions reduced plastic pollution by 40% from 2016 rates and 78% relative to “business as usual” in 2040. Even with immediate and concerted action, 710 million metric tons of plastic waste cumulatively entered aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. To avoid a massive build-up of plastic in the environment, coordinated global action is urgently needed to reduce plastic consumption; increase rates of reuse, waste collection, and recycling; expand safe disposal systems; and accelerate innovation in the plastic value chain.


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Science  18 Sep 2020:

Vol. 369, Issue 6510, pp. 1455-1461



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360,000 thongs on a desert island...

Off Africa’s eastern coast, north of Madagascar, lies Aldabra Atoll, a cluster of coral islands that surround a tropical lagoon.

Aldabra is a UN World Heritage Site that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife, including tens of thousands of wild giant tortoises, far more tortoises than in the Galapagos Islands. Sir David Attenborough, the documentary filmmaker, has called Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world.” The atoll is exceedingly difficult to visit, not only because it’s so remote, but also because new arrivals must contend with a $225 per-visitor daily environmental impact fee — as well as piracy in the region.

This wild, protected place is also, according to newly published research from Oxford University, littered with over 500 tons of plastic waste.

That’s the amount remaining after the Oxford team itself removed 25 tons of plastic debris, a manufactured mountain of plastic trash that included 360,000 used flip flop sandals and literal tons of plastic nets, ropes and other fishing industry trash. “This is the largest accumulation of plastic waste reported for any single island in the world,” Oxford noted as the findings were announced.

The story of how even one the most inaccessible places on Earth has become clogged with plastic trash and industrial waste starts, in some ways, with a deliberate deception.

“Approaching a Point of No Return”

Back in 1989, according to an extraordinary new investigation by NPR and PBS Frontline, executives from Exxon, Chevron, Amoco, Dow, DuPont, Procter & Gamble and others met privately at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington D.C., where they discussed the growing problem of plastic trash.

Since the 1950’s, the world has produced over 8.3 billion tons of plastic, according to UN Environment, virtually all of it derived from fossil fuels. During the 1970’s and 80’s, plastic waste generation rates more than tripled, causing growing concern among consumers.

“The image of plastics is deteriorating at an alarming rate,” Larry Thomas, a former president of a plastics industry association, wrote in records obtained by NPR from that meeting. “We are approaching a point of no return.”

The solution the gathered executives arrived at, NPR found, was to advertise a solution that industry officials knew was unworkable: recycling.

“They knew that the infrastructure wasn't there to really have recycling amount to a whole lot,” Thomas, now turned whistleblower, told NPR.

Nonetheless, the plastics and oil industries forged ahead. They launched and advertised plastics recycling initiatives (which NPR found all fizzled within a handful of years), campaigned for states to require plastic goods to carry a triangle of arrows around a recycling code, and convinced consumers to dutifully sort their plastic trash alongside items that can genuinely be profitably recycled, like glass and metal.

The campaigns resulted in very little actual plastic being recycled. Less than ten percent of the plastic ever made has been recycled even once, a 2017 peer-reviewed scientific paper found — and global recycling ran further aground the following year, when China banned imports of most used plastics after that nation’s attempts at processing and recycling the world’s plastic scrap became inescapably overwhelmed.

Now, Interpol reports an “alarming increase in illegal plastic pollution trade,” citing a rise in illegal dumping and burning of plastics, forgeries, and even the murder of the mayor of a small town in France who’d attempted to stop illegal plastic dumping, “pointing to the kind of violence usually associated with organized crime.”

But from the plastic and oil industries’ perspectives, pro-recycling campaigns proved to be extraordinarily effective — not just because advertising plastic recycling helped to insulate the industry from public concern, but also, as NPR noted, because recycled plastic was always actually a poor and expensive substitute for new plastics — which meant less competition for oil companies and plastics manufacturers.

“Climate Fires”

Today, the oil industry faces new and unprecedented levels of pressure because of a different kind of environmental catastrophe directly linked to its products: climate change.

The world’s need to curb its use of oil and other fossil fuels has never before been so visible or stark. In the US, this past month has brought three of the four largest wildfires in California history — including one fire that’s burned nearly three quarter of a million acres and that remains just 25 percent contained.

The entire western coast of the United States is covered by a dense wall of wildfire smoke that, viewed from above in NASAsatellite imagery, stretches nearly unbroken from Mexico to Canada and that, viewed from the ground, has turned the skies an unearthly orange. In images seen worldwide, the Golden Gate bridge stands illuminated by the yellow blazes of hundreds of burning trees as the waters below and skies above glow brightly through the smoky haze. Dozens of people are dead, and more missing, CNN reported on Saturday.



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plastics on the sea floor...


One of the most striking images of ocean pollution are the patches or islands of floating plastic debris, concentrated in open-ocean gyres (1) and large enough to be seen from space. These concentrations of plastics on the ocean surface were first recognized in the early 1970s (2). Even with the impressive size of these patches, mass-balance estimates for ocean-borne plastics pointed toward a sink. That sink has recently been shown to be deposition on the deep seafloor (3). On page 1140 of this issue, Kane et al. document the occurrence of enriched zones or islands of plastic debris that accumulate on the seafloor of the deep ocean (4).

Very different styles of plastics transport are associated with sea-surface and seafloor pollution. These styles are well understood for sediment transport on Earth's surface, which in turn are linked to surface evolution (5). Kane et al. document that the accumulation of microplastics on the Mediterranean seafloor is not simply passive vertical settling through the water column as has been commonly assumed, but rather represents reworking by deep-sea currents. These concentrate microplastics into patches or islands at predictable locations if the microplastics are treated as sediment that can be eroded, transported, and deposited by a deep-ocean flow field. The same processes that control patterns of erosion and deposition on terrestrial landscapes and shallow-marine shelves also pertain to plastics in the deeper ocean. The authors add much needed confirmation that concepts and methods developed from easier-to-access environments can be applied with confidence to remote undersea inquiries (5).

Although the primary focus of Kane et al. is to demonstrate the fate and focusing of pollutants in the deep sea, the authors also identify a likelihood for colocated hotspots in microplastic concentration and deep-ocean biodiversity. The same currents driving the enrichment of microplastics are efficient conveyers of nutrients and dissolved oxygen to the seafloor. Positioning of the colocated hotspots is affected by the submarine topography that guides the deep-ocean currents. This linkage is analogous to those already identified between surface transport and food webs on terrestrial landscapes (5, 6). This observation opens an opportunity to connect the spatial structure of deep-water ecosystems and pollutants to the spatial structure of surrounding submarine landscapes. Understanding the connections between seafloor pollution by microplastics and deep-sea ecology requires a unified science of Earth's surface dynamics that remains one of the great integrating challenges of environmental studies.

Determining the fate of plastic debris transported from land to sea (7) contributes to quantifying mass fluxes defining Earth's source-to-sink system. Research on sediment-routing systems (8, 9) has already identified many of the complications and pitfalls inherent to tracking particles across the environment. Sediment-flux signals can be phase-shifted, lagged, and buffered by the internal dynamics of the transport system. These same dynamics will confound analyses of routing signals for plastics across Earth's surface and into the deep-ocean sink. Kane et al. demonstrate that microplastics deposited in this deep-sea environment are still subject to later erosion, transport, and redeposition due to time and space variations in the near-bed velocity fields of thermohaline or contour currents. Understanding the ultimate fate of these microplastics requires high-resolution submarine topography or bathymetry because the deep-sea currents interact with this topography to produce the spatial changes in velocity that set patterns of sediment and microplastic erosion, transport, and accumulation. Unfortunately, high-resolution bathymetric data simply do not exist at the global scale. The most widely used seafloor dataset is the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans, available on a 15–arc sec world grid (∼463-m resolution at the equator). It is still surprising that this worldwide ocean product exists at a resolution poorer than that of the 200-m digital elevation model available for the entire surface of Mars (10). Until ocean-basin scale models improve, our detailed understanding of solids transport at and near the seafloor will be restricted to local or regional studies connected with higher-resolution bathymetric models.


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Deep-ocean seafloor islands of plastics


David Mohrig


Science  05 Jun 2020:

Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1055





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Sunday environmental round up, 18 October 2020

By PETER SAINSBURY | On 18 October 2020

Plastics: littering the ocean floor, not being recycled, not easily replaced, may or may not provide oil and gas producers with a prosperous future. Populations of vertebrates have declined by 68% in 50 years.

By sampling the depths of the Great Australian Bight, 300 kilometres off the coast, the CSIRO estimates that about 14 million tons of microplastics litter the world’s ocean floors. Remarkably, this is apparently equivalent to about 60 shopping bags full of small plastic fragments on every metre of coastline in the world, and is much more plastic than is floating on the surface. Microplastics are fragments smaller than 5mm produced by weathering, waves and abrasion. Because they are so small, they are easily consumed by animals and can be harmful to health.


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