Plastic litter is now almost ubiquitous in the World’s oceans, extending from the coast far out to sea, and down onto the sea floor.
Macroscopic plastic (bottles, plastic bags, old toys, etc.) is in evidence on most tourist beaches, in harbours and marinas, and can be readily spotted from boats.
One of the main causes of this global problem is increasing plastic production. The annual production has increased dramatically from 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to approximately 280 million tons in 2011.
Micro plastic fragments (smaller than 5 mm), potentially less obvious Nano scale plastic, is readily detectable in sand, sediment and even in marine biota.
The latter may originate directly in the micro, nano forms, or result from the breakdown or abrasion of larger pieces of plastic.
Micro plastics have been accumulating in oceans globally over at least the last four decades and have invaded even the most remote marine environments.
Knowledge about the effects of this micro-debris is limited, but nonetheless, a scan of global conservation issues identifies micro plastics as one of the main global emerging environmental threats.
Numerous non-governmental organisations, wildlife charities and environmental agencies have drawn attention to the plastic litter issue, yet the scale of the problem is not widely appreciated by the public or politicians.