Since The 1960’s, Plastic In The North Atlantic Ocean Has Tripled

Source: National Geographic/Sarah Gibbens

Photo: Brian Yurasits

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In 1957 it was a piece of trawling twine commonly used for fishing. In 1965 it was a plastic bag.

For more than 60 years, scientists in the U.K. have been collecting data on marine plastic, assembling one of the most comprehensive datasets on how much plastic has filtered into the North Atlantic ocean since it became a ubiquitous household item.

Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Communications Tuesday, the research team is the first to quantifiably confirm the drastic increase in ocean plastic since the 1990s.

How did they do it?

Calculating the amount of plastic in the ocean is difficult. Many researchers and publications refer to a 2015 study in the journal Science that estimated anywhere from 4.8 to 12.7 trillion pieces of plastic enter the ocean each year. The wide range is a result of mixed methods for calculating waste, looking at signs like waste habits, consumption, and recycling capacities.

Researchers also know plastic is found throughout the ocean thanks to visual evidence like a plastic bag seen in the Mariana Trench and a plastic cigarette wrapper spotted dangling from a jellyfish.

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Photo: Brian Yurasits