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PLoS One. 2014 Dec 10;9(12):e111913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111913. eCollection 2014.

Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea.

Author information

1
Five Gyres Institute, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
2
Dumpark Data Science, Wellington, New Zealand.
3
Marine Science Department, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, Hawaii, United States of America; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, United States of America.
4
Facultad Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile; Millennium Nucleus Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Island (ESMOI), Coquimbo, Chile; Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Coquimbo, Chile.
5
Algalita Marine Research and Education, Long Beach, California, United States of America.
6
eCoast Limited, Raglan, New Zealand.
7
Departement Océanographie et Dynamique des Ecosystemes, Institut français de recherche pour l'exploitation de la mer (Ifremer), Bastia, Corsica, France.
8
Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.
9
School of Environmental Systems Engineering and Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth, Australia.

Abstract

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world's oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

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