Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More and more plastics in Bermuda waters and Sargasso Sea


Plastic collected on Bermuda beaches by BREAM volunteer Judie Clee.
Note all plastic pieces are heavily bitten, presumably by turtles and fishes.


From the Bermuda Sun newspaper [link]

Friday 26th Feb, 2010

Heather Jardin

Masses of plastic debris collecting east of BDA
Scientists have discovered an area of the North Atlantic Ocean to the east of Bermuda where huge amounts of plastic debris are ­accumulating.

The region is said to compare with the well-documented "great Pacific garbage patch. In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation earlier this week Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association (SEA) announced the findings of a two-decade-long study.

Local scientist Dr. Thad Murdoch is the chief scientist of the Bermuda Reef Ecosystem Assessment and Mapping programme at the Bermuda Zoological Society and said the findings come as "no surprise".

"The way the currents move around the Atlantic is very similar to the ­Pacific," Dr. Murdoch explained. "Floating objects falling into the ­water from either Europe or North America are spun into the middle - from logs to trees to plastic.

"The seaweed in the Sargasso Sea floats around and is held in location by the way of the water currents. That seaweed is a critical habitat for juvenile fish - many of which we rely on as a food source, such as tuna.

"When plastic is mixed up with the seaweed it can have very damaging ­effects on the fish, especially if it is eaten which can kill them.

"Plastic is very new to our world so fish, birds and turtles don't know not to eat it. It is full of hormone mimics called phthalates which can mess up a fish's reproductive system."

The SEA study is the conclusion of the longest and most extensive record of plastic marine debris in any ocean basin, according to the BBC.

Scientists and students from SEA collected plastic and marine debris in fine mesh nets that were towed ­behind a research vessel.

The researchers carried out 6,100 tows in areas of the Caribbean and the North Atlantic - off the coast of the U.S..

More than half of these expeditions revealed floating pieces of plastic on the water surface.

These were pieces of low-density plastic that are used to make many consumer products, including plastic bags - generally very small.

The maximum "plastic density" was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre.

A group (called Five Gyres) separate from SEA was in Bermuda last month looking at plastic accumulation off the island. They have had huge support from local environmental group Greenrock.

"We have carried out our own studies here in Bermuda and found very heavily-bitten pieces of plastic," Dr. Murdoch. "It's a real pity because it's not our trash. It is most likely from Central and North America and ­Europe and Africa."