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Study: Microplastics A Million Times More Abundant In Ocean Than Previously Thought

Jenni Brandon, a researcher at Birch Aquarium, showcases some of the microplastics she's collected, June 4, 2019.
Shalina Chatlani
Jenni Brandon, a researcher at Birch Aquarium, showcases some of the microplastics she's collected, June 4, 2019.

Tiny pieces of plastics are a million times more abundant in the ocean than previously thought. That's according to research which came out in the journal Limnology and Oceanography last week.

Biologist Jennifer Brandon of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography often sees fishing nets on the Scripps pier extending out from campus.

Study: Microplastics A Million Times More Abundant In Ocean Than Previously Thought
Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

Brandon said this type of net is what most microplastic scientists have been using to measure ocean pollution. But, she realized it might not be the right tool.

"[The holes in] this mesh looks really small. But in between these holes, any plankton smaller than this and any plastic smaller than this can escape," Brandon said.

Brandon said scientists used to estimate about 10 microplastic particles per cubic meter of water. So, she decided to do a recount, using a bucket with no holes in it.

"What we were finding is that when you were counting the tiniest, tiniest microplastics there were now 8 million particles," Brandon said. "So what that means is that the smallest particles that are going to affect the smallest animals are much more abundant than those slightly bigger plastics."

Brandon said that means the entire ocean food chain — including the smallest marine animals — is impacted by these plastics. So, considering these plastics in conversation efforts will be critical.

And, she said, there’s already some evidence that says these mini-microplastics show up in our seafood.

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