High concentrations of floating life in the plastic-rich North Pacific Garbage Patch

Floating life (obligate neuston) is a core component of the ocean surface food web. However, only 1 region of high neustonic abundance is known so far, the Sargasso Sea in the Subtropical North Atlantic gyre, where floating life provides critical habitat structure and ecosystem services. Here, we hypothesize that floating life is also concentrated in other gyres with converging surface currents. To test this hypothesis, we collected samples through the eastern North Pacific Subtropical Gyre in the area of the North Pacific “Garbage Patch” (NPGP) known to accumulate floating anthropogenic debris. We found that densities of floating life were higher inside the central NPGP than on its periphery and that there was a positive relationship between neuston abundance and plastic abundance for 3 out of 5 neuston taxa, Velella, Porpita, and Janthina. This work has implications for the ecology of subtropical oceanic gyre ecosystems.

“The Gully,” situated off Nova Scotia, Canada, is the largest submarine canyon in the western North Atlantic. This unique oceanographic feature, which became a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2004, is rich in marine biodiversity and is part of the critical habitat of Endangered northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus). To understand the potential impact of plastic pollution in the MPA and on this Endangered cetacean, we evaluated trends over time in the abundance and composition of plastics and compared these to the stomach contents of recently stranded northern bottlenose whales. From the 1990s–2010s, the median abundance of micro-sized (<5 mm) and small plastics (5 mm–2.5 cm) increased significantly, while the median abundance of large plastics (>2.5 cm) decreased significantly.

Plastic abundance from the 2010s for micro-sized and small plastics varied from 5586–438 196 particles km−2, higher than previously measured estimates for surrounding offshore areas. Polymers identified using FTIR spectroscopy included polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate polyester, nylon, alkyds (paint), and natural and semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers. The abundance of large debris ranged from 0 to 108.6 items km−2 and consisted of plastic sheets and bags, food wrappers and containers, rope, fishing buoys, and small plastic fragments. Whale stomach contents contained fragments of fishing nets, ropes, bottle caps, cups, food wrappers, smaller plastic fragments, fibers, and paint flakes, consistent with the composition and character of items collected from their critical habitat. Despite being far from centres of human population, the unique oceanographic features of The Gully (i.e. currents and bathymetric complexity) may concentrate plastic debris, increasing exposure rates of whales to plastic pollution. The increase in micro-sized and small plastics over time suggests associated health and welfare impacts of ingested plastics should be accounted for in future recovery plans for this Endangered species.

Humans are continuously exposed to plastics such as in textiles, car tires and packaging. Unfortunately, plastics pollute the environment, causing widespread contamination of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs). The blood–brain barrier (BBB) is an important biological barrier that protects the brains of living organisms from harmful substances. In this study scientists performed short-term uptake research in mice with orally administered polystyrene (PS) plastic micro-/nanoparticles (9.55 µm, 1.14 µm, 0.293 µm). The research shows that nanometer sized particles—but not bigger particles—reach the brain within only 2 hours after ingestion. Researchers further explain causes of the passive transport of nano-sized plastic particles into the brains of mice.

Scientists have found that 37 coastal species have colonized and are living on more than 70% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (North Pacific Subtropical Gyre), and evidence of these species’ reproduction. The researchers have concluded that coastal species persist now in the open ocean as a substantial component of a neopelagic (floating deep-ocean) community sustained by the vast and expanding sea of plastic debris.

Drinking water systems across the U.S. are contaminated with the hazardous “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. The presence of these toxic chemicals in water is known to harm humans who are exposed to them.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Freshwater Fish Map shows how PFAS also contaminate the bodies of fish in rivers, lakes and streams, where these chemicals also pose a risk to human health.

Surface water samples taken around the western and northern regions of Iceland are assessed for plastics using a low-tech aquatic debris instrument (LADI), which is an accessible, homemade, low-cost version of a traditional manta trawl. Results show an assortment of meso- and microplastics across 6 sampling sites. A close look at sample composition is discussed, including its relationship to Iceland’s sizable commercial fishing industry. This study is among the first to quantify and identify microplastic particles collected in Icelandic nearshore surface waters.