We are pleased to share our two latest contributions to the marine litter issue. Two papers published in the June issue of Nature Sustainability, both featured on the cover with a photo by Andrés Cózar (Morales-Caselles et al. 2021, González- Fernández et al. 2021). This time, our focus is on the litter visible to the naked eye, so-called macrolitter.
Much of the research effort on marine litter, as well as our previous work, is focused on microplastics. The small plastic fragments are easily transportable in water and air, and widespread on the planet. There are many intriguing and troubling questions related to microplastics. However, the research on their precursors, macroplastics, shows some advantages and opportunities. Firstly, the time and resources needed to study plastic pollution increase exponentially with smaller items. Put another way, monitoring of macrolitter can be undertaken with rigor and on the large scale by citizen science. Secondly, while linking microplastics to source and origin is really challenging, the linkage is far more feasible for macrolitter. Thirdly, even if we know where and when the accumulation zones of microplastics appear, their recovery is hardly efficient. In contrast, each macroplastic item removed from nature may prevent the dispersion of hundreds, thousands or even millions of microplastic particles.
Paradigms in science become exhausted when we start orbiting the same questions and answers. In our new studies, ground-truth data supplied by 38 research institutions and NGOs in 18 countries allowed us to challenge the existing paradigms in order to propose new ones.
Waste input from land into the ocean is an issue beyond low-income countries and large rivers.
The subtropical ocean gyres are not the main destination for marine litter.
Shores mirror our unsustainable and careless way of life, but an even more repulsive truth lurks on the nearshore seafloors.
Find below open access to both e-prints, as well as specific press releases, data, infographics and photographs. Please note that the papers can be downloaded in PDF format from the e-prints:
Morales-Caselles, C., J. Viejo, E. Martí, E., … A. Cózar, 2021. An inshore-offshore sorting system revealed from global classification of ocean litter. Nature Sustainability, doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00720-8
González-Fernández, D., A. Cózar, G. Hanke, … M. Tourgeli, 2021. Floating macrolitter leaked from Europe into the ocean. Nature Sustainability, doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00722-6