Study: 270,000 tons of plastic floating in oceans - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Study: 270,000 tons of plastic floating in oceans

ocean debris (file image) ocean debris (file image)
ocean debris (file image) ocean debris (file image)
Suzanne Frazer Suzanne Frazer
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A new study estimates there are nearly 270,000 tons of plastic floating in oceans around the world.

The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

According to lead author Dr. Markus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, researchers counted 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic on the ocean's surface.

"It's a pretty conservative estimate, and it doesn't include what's throughout the water column and on our shorelines, as well as what marine life are ingesting," said Suzanne Frazer of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii.

Most of the pieces of very small. "If you look at the 5.25 trillion count we have globally, 92 percent are particles less than a grain of rice," said Eriksen, by phone from New York.

Groups like B.E.A.C.H. and Sustainable Coastlines have been picking up plastic on local beaches. Frazer said her group tackled Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island, where tons of plastic have washed up.

"We spent two days removing that stuff, and there were over four million pieces. And that was just a small area. We weren't even able to do the whole beach," she said.

"We've just nearly reached removing only a hundred thousand pounds, which is a huge number. And then they're saying we're just a tiny little drop," said Kahi Pacarro of Sustainable Coastlines' efforts cleaning shorelines on Oahu.

Researchers are particularly alarmed that the small pieces are being ingested by marine life, up and down the entire food chain.

"It's highly persistent. It floats. It absorbs toxics and it looks like food, and it's being filtered out by the entire marine food web," said Eriksen.

Environmentalists say the study should prompt people to reduce their use of plastic. "Do I take a plastic bag or do I have a reusable bag? Do I use my own reusable utensil sets or take a plastic fork?" said Frazer.

Scientists and others said the study should sound the alarm as proof that ocean plastics are harming the marine environment and the animals that live in it.

"We're able to point to actual numbers to really go to the community and say this is a problem," said Pacarro. "These are the numbers and we've proven it. Now let's work together to fix it."

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