Five Trillion Plastics in the Ocean: 7 Disturbing Facts From a New Study

Not only will floating plastic ruin your vacation photos from Tahiti, more importantly it can entangle or be ingested by all types of marine life.

A group of scientists have been trawling the ocean since to 2007 and as a result have put together what they say is a conservative estimate of plastic in the ocean and where it’s floating. The study was published Dec. 10 in the Public Library of Science.

Plastic particles can be so small that the tiny zooplankton can take it in and pass it up the food chain to predators who are ingesting their own share of plastics, according to the study.

Water You Waiting For?

Sign up for Azula’s newsletter to bring the latest ocean news and crazy-cute animal videos straight to your inbox.

Photo Credit: Edward Conde/Flickr

Here are some of the eye-catching finds from the study:

1. More than five trillion (that’s a 5 followed by 12 zeros) plastic particles are floating in the ocean.

2. Those plastic particles are estimated to weigh 268,940 tons, which is equivalent to about 100,000 pickup trucks.

3. The 71 million square kilometers of the Indian Ocean has more trash in it than the combined area of the South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans, which cover a total of 125 million square kilometers.

4. Polystyrene – think packaging peanuts, plastic bottles and insulation in fridges – is the most common of the small plastic particles found in the ocean. Runaway and defunct fishing buoys made up the majority of the larger plastics.

5. Almost the same amount of plastic trash accumulated in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere as the Northern Hemisphere. This surprised researchers because a previous study has found the north to be by far a bigger producer of plastic than the south.

6. Much of the plastic trash ends up trapped in the circulating currents of the Earth’s major oceans as well as bays, gulfs and seas where, you guessed it, lots of people live.

7. The 268,940 tons of plastic currently circulating in our oceans is equal to only 0.1 percent of the 288 million tons of plastic produced worldwide in 2012.