Research Press Release

Environment: Increase in plastics in North Atlantic Ocean since 1990s confirmed

Nature Communications

April 17, 2019

There has been a significant increase in the amount of plastic in the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas since the 1990s according to a paper published in Nature Communications. Using records of plastic entanglement on a marine sampling instrument, the study provides data on the occurrence of oceanic plastic from 1957 to 2016. It also presents some of the earliest records of plastics in the ocean.

Since the 1950s plastic production has increased exponentially; however, very few records of its distribution in the world’s oceans exist.

The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) is a plankton sampling instrument that has been towed over 6.5 million nautical miles in the North Atlantic and adjacent seas since 1957. Using records of when plastics became entangled in the instrument, Clare Ostle and colleagues documented the changes in the amount of oceanic plastic in the North Atlantic from 1957 to 2016. From their dataset, the authors were able to confirm the expected increase in plastics in the open ocean since the 1990s. They found that the occurrence of plastic entanglement on the CPR increased by around ten times from 2000 onwards. Fishing-related plastic entanglements (such as netting) made the most significant contribution to the rise seen in the last two decades, and the southern North Sea had the highest occurrence of entanglement on the CPR.


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