Western Atlantic heavily polluted with microplastics

by    DiveSSI    5th September 2019
Trigger fish are visible with plastic debris among Sargassum in the Sargasso Sea.  The Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza is on an expedition in the Sargasso Sea, a unique region in the North Atlantic Ocean that is home to a diverse array of marine life, including loggerhead and green sea turtles. 
The journey, part of the "Protect the Oceans" year long tour, will see Greenpeace and University of Florida researchers team up to study the impact of plastics and microplastics on marine life and the importance that the Sargasso's drifting Sargassum seaweed habitat has for the development of juvenile sea turtles.
Fish and plastic waste in the typical seaweed mats of the Sargasso Sea, the Sargassum, (c) Shane Gross / Greenpeace

The Sargasso Sea is a plastic sea

The concentration of microplastics in the West Atlantic Sargasso Sea is apparently similar to that in the large Pacific garbage patch. Scientists on board the Greenpeace ship "Esperanza" come to this conclusion after their investigations during an expedition from the north pole to the south pole.

In a water sample, the researchers found 1,298 particles of microplastic; the concentration is even higher than in the Pacific garbage patch. The Sargasso Sea is home to many endangered marine life such as turtles or eels.

"The deep blue water looks so wonderfully clean, but our samples show the opposite," says Greenpeace marine biologist Thilo Maack. "The Sargasso Sea is a plastic sea. There is more than enough evidence of how plastic pollutes the oceans. We urgently need stronger protection of the oceans. "

The partially microscopic plastic particles originate, for example, from disposable bottles and plastic packaging, as evidenced by infrared analyzes aboard the "Esperanza". The scientific work is part of a broad-based study conducted in collaboration with US scientific institutes, the University of Florida and the Government of Bermuda.

For the microplastic investigation, a so-called manta trawl was used. This standardized method is used to analyze microplastic near the water surface. The Greenpeace team documents the importance of the Sargasso Sea for endangered species and shows how the plastic affects the habitat. For the first time, it was also investigated whether the algae mats distributed over a large area in the Sargasso Sea offer special living conditions for baby sea turtles.

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5th September 2019
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