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Current Affairs

Toxic microplastic hotspots

Date: 01 May 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Scientists from the U.K. have discovered the highest level of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor, with up to 1.9 million pieces of plastic covering just one square meter at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy.

 

Background

Microplastics are pieces of plastic waste that measure less than five millimetres long, or often much smaller, and are deemed invisible water pollutants.

 

Details

  • The harmful plastic debris has been pulled down by powerful deep-sea currents that transport and concentrate the pollutants within huge sediment accumulations, which researchers coined microplastic hotspots.

  • The hotspots are a deep-sea equivalent of so-called garbage patches created by currents on the ocean’s surface. 

  • Ocean microplastics have created waste areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive gyre of more than 87,000 tons of trash spanning waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. 

  • The tiny plastics come from sources such as textiles and clothing as well as items such as plastic bottles that break down into smaller pieces over time. The waste is not filtered out in domestic wastewater treatment plants in cities and farms, and as a result it runs right into rivers and oceans. 

  • The study has shown how detailed studies of seafloor currents can help us to connect microplastic transport pathways in the deep-sea and find the ‘missing’ microplastics.

  • Researchers found that the microplastic hotspots on the seafloor can house vital ecosystems that will consume or absorb the plastics. Toxic chemicals from microplastics have been found to hurt animals such as insects and marine species by blocking their digestive systems.

  • Researchers said the new findings will help predict other undiscovered microplastic hotspot locations in the ocean and direct more research into the impact of microplastics on marine life.