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Earth Science

Ninety-Nine Percent of the Ocean's Plastic Is Missing 304

sciencehabit writes Millions of tons. That's how much plastic should be floating in the world's oceans, given our ubiquitous use of the stuff. But a new study (abstract) finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility: Fish are eating it. If that's the case, "there is potential for this plastic to enter the global ocean food web," says Carlos Duarte, an oceanographer at the University of Western Australia, Crawley. "And we are part of this food web."
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Ninety-Nine Percent of the Ocean's Plastic Is Missing

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  • by AnOnyxMouseCoward ( 3693517 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @05:41PM (#47354167)
    Wait. Isn't Slashdot supposed to link me to articles? I know no one RTFA, but if there isn't any link at all and just a blurb, what's the point?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2014 @05:48PM (#47354251)

    Is that water, the ultimate solvent -- or perhaps bacteria -- are breaking down the plastics back into it's components

    Of the two, I'd go with bacteria, given that the bottled water aisle of my grocery store strongly suggests that water is a little less ultimate than you imply.

  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @05:49PM (#47354273) Homepage
    no no no, couldnt be, we have to go with the scary version, we cant go using reasonable options, how will anyone get funding for research???
  • Re:It's sinking. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drpimp ( 900837 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @05:59PM (#47354383) Journal
    Fish actually DO eat plastic and yes they cannot digest it. Ask any fisherman who fishes artificial lures. Sinking is still a contributing possibility as well.
  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:02PM (#47354405)

    yeah, its almost certainly not the fish, it must be the micro-organisms.

    Now, if I can only think.. what eats the micro-organisms in the oceans?

    Of course its in the fucking food supply. You shit in the ocean, something eats it and we end up eating that. If we're lucky its only shit which is a naturally bio-degradable food source for plants. If we're unlucky, its the various poisons we dumped in there too, 'cos it was cheaper than processing them.

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:28PM (#47354597)

    maybe there have been vast over estimates of how much was there to begin with

    Bingo. The problem probably isn't hippies underestimating the ability of the oceans to consume plastic. The problem is probably just hippies wildly overestimating the quantity of plastic escaping trash collection/recycling systems.

    But this simple hypothesis won't be welcome among hippies because it fails to comport with the contaminated planet narrative, so it won't be considered or analyzed, and Obama help anyone among the researchers that dares to suggest it. Instead, theories about contamination of the food web will be indulged and, based on zero actual evidence, the fear mongering has now commenced.

    We call this process `science.'

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:29PM (#47354599) Homepage

    Except these conglomerates were formed by beach humans burning wood and trash and plastic and having the latter melt into the rock. Unless the fish (or other aquatic denizens) are starting fires somewhere, it's not likely to be a general mechanism.

  • Null hypothesis (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:42PM (#47354681)

    The original estimate was wrong.

    Of course, this doesn't fit with the Enviro-Disaster meme that every new piece of information should headline with 'It's worse than we thought!'.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:44PM (#47354689)

    Yeah.. Think about what plastics are made from. We wouldn't want oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, or (god forbid) CARBON getting into our food chain. I mean, that's the stuff life is made of. Wait, what are we talking about?

  • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @06:51PM (#47354745)

    Is that water, the ultimate solvent -- or perhaps bacteria -- are breaking down the plastics back into it's components, and the ocean (much like the oil from the BP spill) is taking care of itself.

    Naw, couldn't be. Go ahead and panic, hippies!

    Yeah, and everyone know that broken down oil was completely [yahoo.com] harmless [aljazeera.com].

    Whatever components that plastic is breaking down into it likely contains a lot of molecules that aren't found in nature. When those molecules enter an organism there's no telling what the hell they're going to do.

    I don't understand this fantasy that some people cling to that we can dump endless streams of random crap into the environment and mother nature will just magically take care of it with no consequence. People would sure as hell notice if you started dumping garbage into a lake and screwing up a beach where people swim once a week, why do you think the things that actually live in the polluted water won't be affected?

  • by Tuidjy ( 321055 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:46PM (#47355109)

    I am not buying the universal solvent theory, because even accounting for the salts in the water, it would take hundreds of years for most plastics to dissolve.

    The bacteria theory is more likely, because I remember reading something about bacteria living in trash dumps, and supposedly breaking down plastic. I do not remember a followup, but it's still more likely than the above. The problem is, this does not necessarily result in harmless components being the end result.

    Here's another theory that I consider more likely: algae and barnacles attach themselves to plastic objects, and eventually sink them out of sight. Not as perfectly conductive to happily singing "La-la-la" and dismissing all worries, but hey, if you wish, you can just come up with more comforting theories, like "Magical pink narwhals are spearing the floating plastic, and melting it in underwater volcanoes to build underwater cooling systems to fight global warming".

  • by Cl1mh4224rd ( 265427 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:50PM (#47355135)

    no no no, couldnt be, we have to go with the scary version, we cant go using reasonable options, how will anyone get funding for research???

    I find this to be quite bizarre; this notion that all "scary" alternatives are somehow unreasonable and only non-scary alternatives qualify as reasonable.

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:33PM (#47355469)

    I'm going to call myself a wise skeptic. Someone else provided the missing link to the original story which points out that the plastic volume is derived from a 40+ year old estimate of how much plastic washes into the ocean (0.1%.) This estimate, doubtless taken as an article of faith in the published work, is from a time prior to widespread recycling, the EPA (and its analogs in other industrialized nations) having teeth, bioplastics that are designed to degrade, improved waste management, billions spent on public awareness, sponsored programs such as Adopt-a-Highway and other environmental measures. They disregarded all of that, took the 0.1% figure from a obsolete study, multiplied it by the quantity of plastic being manufactured today ran with the figure.

    This stuff is so transparent it's laughable. It deserves ridicule. Instead it's blessed with the benefit of the doubt because the worst case fits the narrative to which you've been trained to adhere.

  • by Pino Grigio ( 2232472 ) on Tuesday July 01, 2014 @06:03AM (#47358407)
    Not lied so much as made use of computer models that bear no relation whatsoever to reality. There's a lot of it about in environmental "science".

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"