Tiny particles of plastic are awash in the oceans—but how are they affecting marine life?
When Mark Browne set out to study the plastic waste that litters the oceans, he hadn’t planned on doing laundry in the name of science. Browne, an ecologist at the University of New South Wales, Australia, was aiming to chart the quantities and types of plastic fragments washing up on shores worldwide. Five years ago, he and his colleagues had already found a surprisingly large amount of nylon and polyester fibers, particularly near heavily populated areas. When they sampled sewage effluent, as well as decades-old sewage dumps, Browne and his colleagues found the same range of fibers, in exactly the same proportions of polymers used by the clothing industry.
Alla Katsnelson, PNAS, Vol. 112 (18), pages 5547-5549, May 2015