It is already well-known that billions of pounds of plastic debris are already floating around in the ocean, but recent research has discovered a new threat that plastic imposes on the ocean. According to an ongoing series on plastic in the Huffington Post ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/plastic-pollution-oceans_us_59104e54e4b0d5d9049dc664 ), these new threats are known as microplastics and they are clogging the ocean’s currents.
What Are Microplastics?
As the ocean fills with waste from grocery bags, drinking straws, and other forms of disposable items, these thin plastics break down into tiny particles and float for thousands of miles in the gyres, the natural ocean currents. If a person stood at the bottom of the ocean beneath these gyres, the ocean would look hazy, comparable to the smog levels in cities like Los Angeles. The main problem with the microplastic debris in the gyres is that these ocean currents exist well away from civilizations and continue to grow in density and waste.
One of the worst locations for microplastic clogging is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located off the west coast of the United States and just north of Hawaii. Reports have described this floating pile of debris to be as big as the state of Texas. While rumors have spread that this pile of trash is dense enough to walk on and large enough to see from space, researchers at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have debunk these claims.
While these microplastic bits can’t be seen, they can be measured. Currently, researchers have concluded that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. Once salt and UV rays break this trash down to bits less than 5 millimeters long, these microplastics can add up to a number that rivals the amount of stars in the galaxy.
These pieces have not only found their way onto every beach of the world but have also become a source of food for marine life as the plastic continues to retain the scent of food and this causes the animals eat these small particles, to fill with plastic, and die of malnutrition.