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7 Insightful Facts About Microplastic Pollution in the Ocean

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Microplastics are everywhere. They can be found in our homes, stores, factories, you name it. They can also be found in many places they aren’t supposed to be. This includes our food, our personal care products, our clothes, our bodies, our livestock, and even the ocean. Microplastics affect all of these different things in different ways, but this article will focus on their effect on the ocean. For this article, I have collected 7 different facts about MP pollution in our oceans. Some of them you might have heard before. Others might be completely new or abstract. All of them are interesting and I think they are all important to know in order to raise awareness of the dire issue that microplastic pollution is.

At first glance, what looks like a bunch of fish is actually microplastics
At first glance, what looks like a bunch of fish is actually microplastics
Some more facts!

By 2050, there will be more microplastics than fish in the ocean

Although a rough estimate, environmentalists predict that plastics in the ocean will increase by 9.1 million tonnes each year from now to 2050. That will put 850-950 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean by 2050, a number that could potentially outweigh the world’s fish stocks, estimated to be 812-899 million tonnes. All this plastic will eventually break down into microplastics and be consumed by fish and other marine life. This could be detrimental to fish stocks all over the world.

14 Million tons of mps are on the ocean floor

Researchers at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) studied an area in the Great Australian Blight, aiming to quantify the amount of plastic on the ocean floor. With a remotely operated vehicle, they collected various samples and concluded that at least 14 million tonnes of MPs littered the Australian seafloor. This is just in one area of the entire ocean worldwide. Who knows how many MP's are all over the world’s ocean floor.

Up to 10 million tons of MP’s are dumped into the ocean, equivalent to a truck load every minute, every year

I did say 9.1 million tons enter the ocean every year, but realistically the number is in between 8 to 10 million. This is bonkers to me; do you realize how light most plastics are? A ton of plastic water bottles is 2000 lbs of water bottles. Imagine watching trucks lined up, each one waiting to dump its waste into the ocean, by the minute. That looks like the apocalypse.

Rivers serve as another entry way for MP's into the ocean

All over Europe, rivers funnel into the surrounding ocean. In Spain specifically, the Ebro river has been observed to channel 2.2 billion tonnes of microplastic into the Mediterranean Sea every year. According to researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 2.2 billion is a lowballed number, especially when compared to other major rivers throughout Europe.

There are 500x more MP's in our ocean than stars in galaxy

The United Nations News predicts that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles throughout every ocean on the entire planet. This is 500 times more than the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Curious about the actual number, I googled it; ~100 thousand million stars. There are more microplastic particles in the ocean than the Milky Way's 100 thousand million stars. Mindboggling.

There are more microplastics in the ocean than stars in this picture

Microbeads are a type of MP that are found in personal care products and contribute to the large amount of MP's in the ocean.

Many of the microplastic particles in the ocean are made of microbeads: tiny, polyethylene based spheres that are used in the creation and delivery of many personal care products, such as toothpaste, shampoo and body wash, deodorant, etc.

MPs can affect coral and other aquatic life other than fish and plankton, science direct

Last week, I interviewed a former classmate about his venture to save coral reefs. He has a fascinating idea to do so, and you can read the interview here. Being aquatic creatures, coral reefs are also subject to microplastic pollution. However, at the moment it is unsure what effects microplastics have on coral reefs. However, this is interesting to researchers because coral reefs could provide some insights into how to prevent MP’s from harming other aquatic life. Unfortunately, coral reefs are fighting their own battle for survival that makes studying them difficult.

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