Florida’s largest estuary, Tampa Bay, is highly polluted with microplastics, according to an article published June 14, 2014 in the Tampa Bay Times. Journalist Craig Pittman describes the work of marine scientist David Hastings who has taken water samples from Tampa Bay for the last four years, and found up to 150 particles per gallon, a value described as “high compared to the oceans”. Sources of microplastics are from personal care products, fibers of synthetic fabrics, or weathered plastic articles. Microplastic particles are of concern because they leach chemicals into the aquatic environment and absorb persistent pollutants, like PCBs, which are then transferred to animals mistakenly eating the microplastics. Thereby, persistent pollutants can accumulate in the food chain.

Ocean plastic pollution is also discussed in an article by journalist Laura Parker, appearing on June 13, 2014 in National Geographic and described as a serious environmental issue with so far unknown consequences requiring urgent action. Most of the plastics debris ending up in the oceans originates on land. New research is carried out by scientist Jenna Jambeck at University of California at Santa Barbara, showing estimates of global garbage production and how the lack of dedicated garbage collection in developing countries contributes to the problem of plastic pollution.

In response to the growing awareness, plastics producers have formed a Global Plastics Association for Solutions on Marine Litter, uniting 48 plastics manufacturers from 25 countries. Meanwhile, an ambitious ocean cleanup project has been initiated by Boyan Slat. However, according to Laura Parker and Craig Pittman, many scientists agree that the main goal must be to reduce plastics consumption and littering overall, since cleaning up the ocean is problematic and of controversial ecological benefit.

To tackle marine protection in the Pacific Ocean, U.S. president Barak Obama announced new plans on June 17, 2014. Part of the measures include addressing plastic waste.

Read more

Craig Pittman. ‘Microplastics’ imperil marine life in Tampa Bay, worldwide. Tampa Bay Times (online June 14, 2014).

Laura Parker. With millions of tons of plastic in oceans, more scientists studying impact. A surprising amount of our garbage ends up in the sea. Can it ever be cleaned up? National Geographic (online June 13, 2014).

Our ocean action plan. (pdf) U.S. Department of State (online June 17, 2014).

Mark Felsenthal and Valerie Volcovic. Obama moves to protect vast Pacific Ocean areas. Reuters (online June 17, 2014).

Suzanne Goldenberg. Obama to order ocean protections with executive powers, Kerry says. The Guardian (online June 16, 2014).

The Ocean Cleanup.

Marine Debris Solutions. Global Plastics Association for Solutions on Marine Litter.