News ID: 204921
Published: 0515 GMT November 25, 2017

'Lost 99%' of tiny ocean pollutants could be identified

'Lost 99%' of tiny ocean pollutants could be identified

A new method has been developed that could help scientists identify the ‘lost 99 percent’ of microplastics in the world’s oceans.

Microplastics are fragments of plastic measuring less than 5 millimeters. They mainly arise from large plastic objects, which accumulate in the oceans and slowly break down into smaller pieces, reported.

These tiny plastics are by far the most common type of marine pollution, but their size means most of them aren’t being taken into account when scientists attempt to analyze their prevalence.

One study estimated that 99 percent of plastic in the ocean remains unaccounted for.

Now, scientists have used a fluorescent dye that specifically binds to plastic in order to accurately count the very smallest plastic fragments.

They found many more microplastics than were previously estimated.

University of Warwick researcher Gabriel Erni-Cassola, who is lead author of the Environmental Science & Technology study said, “Using this method, a huge series of samples can be viewed and analyzed very quickly, to obtain large amounts of data on the quantities of small microplastics in seawater or, effectively, in any environmental sample,” said.

Prior to this, methods to assess microplastic prevalence have relied on scientists picking them out of seawater samples one by one.

By adding their dye to samples, the scientists were able to easily detect fragments under a microscope in samples taken from the coast around Plymouth. This allows the process to be automated.

Many of particles they detected were no bigger than the width of a human hair, but even they can potentially be harmful to the environment, especially when ingested by animals.

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