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Airdate: Mar 14, 2017
Scientist: Tim Long

Microplastics - Into Our Oceans

Microplastics - Into Our Oceans
Virtually every plastic bag that finds its way into the ocean, deteriorates into microplastic particles.

Microplastics - Into Our Oceans

Ambience: Ocean Waves
Tiny fragments of plastics microplastics, are finding their way into our oceans. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Long: As our population grows and people continue to want plastic, it's convenient, it's safer, but what is the fate of that plastic? That primary source that finds its way down to the ocean.

Tim Long is a professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech.

Long: When a plastic becomes a microplastic, it has come to the ocean, it's experienced the currents, the temperatures, the sun. It is fragmenting and decreasing in size and within weeks, a polyethylene garbage bag will be completely covered by a plankton or some type of biological organism. We call that term biofouling. And now that plastic sinks, and that plastic can be involved in all the different currents in our ocean. It's constantly being irradiated by UV light from the sun, and that deterioration process leads to the microplastic. So we're not putting microplastics in necessarily directly. The ocean itself is taking that pollutant and converting it into microplastics. Then the consequence becomes even more significant ---- In terms of our fish ingesting microplastics, or what's the consequence of that plastic transporting other pollutants in the areas that have never been exposed to that pollutant in the past. People only now are beginning to understand really what is the potential impact of microplastics in the ocean.
There's been studies in the UK, which describes 65% of the fish they collected had particles in the fish. In the North Pacific in 2010, they detected plastic fragments in almost one-third of all fish caught. If one-third of our fish are consuming microplastics, then it automatically raises a concern to us.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology and the National Science Foundation.