75% to 86% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “originates from fishing activities at sea.”
Plastic emissions from rivers remain the main source of plastic pollution from a global ocean perspective. Plastic lost at sea has a higher chance of accumulating offshore than plastic emitted from rivers, leading to high concentrations of fishing-related debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [or GPGP]. New findings confirm the oceanic garbage patches cannot be cleaned solely through river interception and highlight the potentially vital role of fishing and aquaculture in ridding the world’s oceans of plastic….
Our previous research has shown that almost half of the plastic mass in the GPGP is comprised of fishing nets and ropes (fibrous plastics used, for example, to make our The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses), with the remainder largely composed of hard plastic objects and small fragments. While the provenance of fishing nets is obvious, the origins of the other plastics in the GPGP have — until now — remained unclear…. In 2019, System 001/B, an early iteration of our cleanup technology, retrieved over 6,000 hard plastic debris items (larger than 5 cm) from the GPGP, providing our scientists with a unique opportunity to study larger objects not studied by previous research efforts. Each item was sorted into predefined item categories and inspected individually for evidence of country of origin (evidence may include language or text on the object, company name, brand, logo, or other identifying text such as an address or telephone number, etc.) and date of production. This comprehensive analysis revealed that roughly a third of the items were unidentifiable fragments. The other two-thirds was dominated by objects typically used in fishing, such as floats, buoys, crates, buckets, baskets, containers, drums, jerry cans, fish boxes, and eel traps.
Nearly half (49%) of plastic objects which could be dated were produced in the 20th century, with the oldest identified item being a buoy dating from 1966. This distribution is in line with our previous research showing significant occurrence of decades-old objects in the GPGP and re-emphasizes that the plastic in these garbage patches persists and can cause harm for lengthy periods, continually degrading into microplastics and becoming increasingly difficult to remove. In short, these results underline the urgent need to clean the GPGP; no matter what actions are taken to prevent riverine plastic emissions, the GPGP will persist and its content will continue to beach on remote islands, such as the Hawaiian Archipelago, and fragment into microplastics that will eventually sink to the seabed.
Surprisingly, countries near the edge of the northern Pacific (like the Philippines) weren’t major contributors to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and instead their research blamed Japan (34%), China (32%), the Korean peninsula (10%), and the USA (7%). While they’re not major sources of plastic from rivers, “they do carry out the majority of industrialized fishing activities in the GPGP region….
“[T]rawlers, fixed gear, and drifting longlines accounted for more than 95% of identified fishing activities that may account for emissions of floating plastic debris into the GPGP. “
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