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Study finds more than 260,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean

This file 2008 photo provided by NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center shows debris in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii. (AP Photo/NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, File)

TORONTO – A new study estimates more than five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tons.

The data collected by scientists from the U.S., France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand was published Wednesday in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

The majority of the plastic, roughly 92 per cent, is made up of what is referred to as “micro plastics” measuring less than five millimetres, largely created from products such as food and beverage packaging.

The paper suggest birds and marine mammals can become entangled in the larger pieces of plastic, while smaller micro plastics pose a health risk as they are devoured by smaller organisms and get eaten by larger animals all the way up to humans.

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Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who wasn’t involved in the study told the Associated Press this kind of research is important to understand how the food chain is impacted by plastic in the oceans.

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“Am I being poisoned by eating the fish on my plate?” she said. “We have very little knowledge of the chain of events that could lead to that. But it’s a plausible scenario that plastic ingested at lower levels of the food web could have consequences at higher levels of the food chain.”

To gather the data, scientists dragged a fine net along the sea surface to gather smaller plastics, while larger items like fishing-equipment and ordinary household garbage were counted from boats.

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Although the plastic is spread across the world through ocean currents, most of the garbage accumulates in large ocean gyres, large circular currents that hold plastics in a specific area. One of these known as the “great Pacific garbage patch” covers an area roughly the size of Texas.

The study was lead by Markus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization that aims to reduce plastic in the oceans.

*With files from the Associated Press

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