How do we reduce the plastic in our oceans to safe levels





Plankton (singular plankter) are a diverse group of organisms that live in the water column and cannot swim against a current. They provide a crucial source of food to many large aquatic organisms, such as fish and whales.

These organisms include drifting animals, protists, archaea, algae, or bacteria that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water; that is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification.

Though many planktonic species are microscopic in size, plankton includes organisms covering a wide range of sizes, including large organisms such as jellyfish.


Phytoplankton are photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost all oceans and bodies of fresh water. They are agents for "primary production," the creation of organic compounds from carbon dioxide dissolved in the water, a process that sustains the aquatic food web. Phytoplankton obtain energy through the process of photosynthesis and must therefore live in the well-lit surface layer (termed the euphotic zone) of an ocean, sea, lake, or other body of water. Phytoplankton account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth. Their cumulative energy fixation in carbon compounds (primary production) is the basis for the vast majority of oceanic and also many freshwater food webs (chemosynthesis is a notable exception).





PLASTIC SNACK - The effect of plastic microbeads — found in toothpaste and exfoliants — on microscopic marine life is unknown. But thanks to filmmaker Verity White, we can clearly see that zooplankton are ingesting the microbeads along with their normal diet of phytoplankton.

The footage is part of a six-minute film from Five Films called “Ren Kyst – Got a Spare Afternoon?” about litter and coastal cleanups that late last month won the Atkins CIWEM Environmental Film of the Year from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in the UK.

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into the oceans every year, according to a study from the UC Santa Barbara National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, published in the journal Science this year. Somewhere between 6,350 and 245,000 metric tons of that plastic is floating — which means the rest of it ends up somewhere beneath the surface.



The effects of anthropogenic warming on the global population of phytoplankton is an area of active research. Changes in the vertical stratification of the water column, the rate of temperature-dependent biological reactions, and the atmospheric supply of nutrients are expected to have important effects on future phytoplankton productivity. Additionally, changes in the mortality of phytoplankton due to rates of zooplankton grazing may be significant. As a side note, one of the more remarkable food chains in the ocean – remarkable because of the small number of links – is that of phytoplankton-feeding krill (a crustacean similar to a tiny shrimp) feeding baleen whales.

Phytoplankton are also crucially dependent on minerals. These are primarily macronutrients such as nitrate, phosphate or silicic acid, whose availability is governed by the balance between the so-called biological pump and upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich waters. However, across large regions of the World Ocean such as the Southern Ocean, phytoplankton are also limited by the lack of the micronutrient iron. This has led to some scientists advocating iron fertilization as a means to counteract the accumulation of human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Large-scale experiments have added iron (usually as salts such as iron sulphate) to the oceans to promote phytoplankton growth and draw atmospheric CO2 into the ocean. However, controversy about manipulating the ecosystem and the efficiency of iron fertilization has slowed such experiments.






Phytoplankton are a key food item in both aquaculture and mariculture. Both utilize phytoplankton as food for the animals being farmed. In mariculture, the phytoplankton is naturally occurring and is introduced into enclosures with the normal circulation of seawater. In aquaculture, phytoplankton must be obtained and introduced directly. The plankton can either be collected from a body of water or cultured, though the former method is seldom used. Phytoplankton is used as a foodstock for the production of rotifers, which are in turn used to feed other organisms. Phytoplankton is also used to feed many varieties of aquacultured molluscs, including pearl oysters and giant clams.

The production of phytoplankton under artificial conditions is itself a form of aquaculture. Phytoplankton is cultured for a variety of purposes, including foodstock for other aquacultured organisms, a nutritional supplement for captive invertebrates in aquaria. Culture sizes range from small-scale laboratory cultures of less than 1L to several tens of thousands of liters for commercial aquaculture. Regardless of the size of the culture, certain conditions must be provided for efficient growth of plankton.


The majority of cultured plankton is marine, and seawater of a specific gravity of 1.010 to 1.026 may be used as a culture medium. This water must be sterilized, usually by either high temperatures in an autoclave or by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, to prevent biological contamination of the culture. Various fertilizers are added to the culture medium to facilitate the growth of plankton. A culture must be aerated or agitated in some way to keep plankton suspended, as well as to provide dissolved carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. In addition to constant aeration, most cultures are manually mixed or stirred on a regular basis. Light must be provided for the growth of phytoplankton. The colour temperature of illumination should be approximately 6,500 K, but values from 4,000 K to upwards of 20,000 K have been used successfully. The duration of light exposure should be approximately 16 hours daily; this is the most efficient artificial day length.




Distribution of plastic marine debris collected in 6136 surface plankton net tows from 1986-2008 in the western North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Symbols indicate the location of net tows; color indicates the measured plastic concentration in pieces per square kilometer. Black stars indicate tows with measured concentration greater than 200,000 pieces per square kilometer. Symbols are layered from low to high concentration. Figure courtesy of the Journal Science.





Plastic in the North Pacific outnumbers zooplankton, causing concern for scientists. Plastic in the Pacific Ocean is an enormous problem – and not just for marine life. There is now six times more plastic debris in part of the North Pacific Ocean than zooplankton the populous animal plankton that forms the base of the aquatic food chain.

According to the nonprofit Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, California, tens of thousands of mammals and birds swallow the plastic. The plastic is dumped from countries worldwide, lost by ships or washed out to sea from urban areas. Furthermore, plastic becomes a "toxic sponge," soaking up pollutants in the water. Charles Moore, founder of Algalita Marine Research Foundation, says the ultimate concern is that humans could wind up consuming the plastic – and its absorbed pollutants – as it makes its way up the food chain.

Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and marine debris expert in Seattle, says one pound of plastic turns into 100,000 small pieces of plastic if left in the ocean. While oil spills get more attention as an environmental threat, he says plastic is a far more serious danger to the ocean's health. Oil is harmful but eventually biodegrades, while plastic remains forever, he says. Half of beach debris worldwide is plastic and its impact on the food chain is undetermined, Ebbesmeyer says. Not much is known about the effect of plastic consumption on marine life like jellyfish and fish. Plastic doesn't biodegrade, it just gets broken into smaller pieces resembling zooplankton. The plastic is eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by fish. In addition to substituting for actual nutrients, plastic also chemically attracts hydrocarbon pollutants found in the ocean like PCBs and DDT. Moore says pollutants accumulate in plastic up to one million times more than in ocean water.

In 1999, Moore set out to look for plastic debris, large and small, in the North Pacific gyre, a 10 million square mile area with circular surface currents that draw debris to the middle. He focused on a 500-square-mile area at the center of the region's vortex halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii. Surprisingly, he found six times more plastic than zooplankton. After a recent research trip this fall, he says the mass of plastic has increased to 10 pounds of plastic to one pound of zooplankton. But plastic debris is hardly limited to the North Pacific gyre. Moore says in waters off Los Angeles, there is 2.5 pounds of plastic for every pound of plankton. "The ocean uses what she can get. She grinds it up and feeds it to her critters," Ebbesmeyer says.







Wind and waves can mix buoyant ocean plastics throughout the water column, but most of their mass remains at the sea surface, according to research led by The University of Western Australia.


PhD candidate Julia Reisser and her international team published the study in the journal Biogeosciences, reporting the first ever high - resolution vertical profiles of plastic pollution in the so - called “ocean garbage patches”. 


Most of the submerged plastics were very small – less than 1 mm across. Previous studies noticed that tiny plastics were missing from the oceans. Ms Reisser is quoted as saying: “We have shown that at least a fraction of this missing plastic is still adrift at sea, but at depths greater than the surface layer that is usually sampled by scientists.”


When the wind was stronger than 10 knots, more than half of the 0.5-1mm particles were underwater. But even when there was no wind, about 20 per cent of these little plastics were still below the surface.


By using a new measuring device called a Multi-level Trawl, the researchers were able to measure plastic concentrations in ten layers simultaneously, down to a depth of 5 meters.


While taking measurements in the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, the team demonstrated that the mass concentration of millimeter-sized plastics drops exponentially from the sea surface to deeper waters.


The pioneering survey was conducted aboard the SV Sea Dragon, owned by Pangaea Exploration. It was sponsored by The University of Western Australia and the Ocean Cleanup Foundation.



Multi level trawl for sampling ocean plastic


Founder of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and co-author of the study, Boyan Slat is quoted as saying: "The results of the study are good news to those developing technologies to extract plastic from oceanic garbage patches. Almost all plastic was on or very close to the surface, meaning it’s within reachable distances for a cleanup operation.”




The vertical distribution of buoyant plastics at sea: an observational study in the North Atlantic Gyre


"Millimetre-sized plastics are numerically abundant and widespread across the world's ocean surface. These buoyant macroscopic particles can be mixed within the upper water column by turbulent transport. Models indicate that the largest decrease in their concentration occurs within the first few metres of water, where 
in situ observations are very scarce. In order to investigate the depth profile and physical properties of buoyant plastic debris, we used a new type of multi-level trawl at 12 sites within the North Atlantic subtropical gyre to sample from the air–seawater interface to a depth of 5 m, at 0.5 m intervals. 


Our results show that plastic concentrations drop exponentially with water depth, and decay rates decrease with increasing Beaufort number. Furthermore, smaller pieces presented lower rise velocities and were more susceptible to vertical transport. This resulted in higher depth decays of plastic mass concentration (milligrams m−3) than numerical concentration (pieces m−3). Further multi-level sampling of plastics will improve our ability to predict at-sea plastic load, size distribution, drifting pattern, and impact on marine species and habitats."




J. Reisser (1),*, B. Slat (2),*, K. Noble (3), K. du Plessis (4), M. Epp (1), M. Proietti5, J. de Sonneville (2), T. Becker (6), and C. Pattiaratchi (1)


1. School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering and UWA Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

2. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, Delft, the Netherlands

3. Roger Williams University, Bristol, USA

4. Pangaea Exploration, Miami, USA

5. Instituto de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande, Rio Grande, Brazil

6. Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

*These authors contributed equally to this work.


Ms Reisser received an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and a UWA Completion Scholarship.



Julia Reisser - UWA Oceans Institute -
(+31) 6 28 628 036
David Stacey - UWA Media and Public Relations Manager
(+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716







The Plastic Oceans Foundation is a registered United Kingdom Charity (Number 1139843). We are dedicated to protecting and improving the environment. Through a wide range of activities the Foundation will educate, provide a resource base for study and research, campaign for improvements in legislation and policy, raise funds for the development of solutions and develop a worldwide integrated social media network aimed at achieving the mission.











CNET news for the first time plankton filmed eating plastic

Theterramarproject big problem for the food chain tiny plankton snacking on plastic

Sea Plex Science

Abundant Seas

Plastic Boards
JBI Global

Gyre clean up plan

5 Gyres - Understanding Plastic Marine Pollution

Wind Driven Surface Currents: Gyres

SIO 210: Introduction to Physical Oceanography - Global circulation

SIO 210: Introduction to Physical Oceanography - Wind-forced circulation notes

SIO 210: Introduction to Physical Oceanography - Lecture 6

Physical Geography - Surface and Subsurface Ocean Currents

North Pacific Gyre Oscillation — Georgia Institute of Technology

Education National Geographic ocean gyre

Great Recovery


Wikipedia Marine_debris

National Geographic 2014 July ocean-plastic-debris-trash-pacific-garbage-patch

Plastic Soup News Blogspot 2014_July

World Wildlife Fund Pollution

Salon 2014/09/14 we_cant_strain_the_entire_ocean_the_horrifying_truth_about_where_our_plastic_ends_up

Un package me.whats wrong with plastic

Neuro research project 2013 death-by-plastic

Indiegogo projects sailing the Atlantic ocean to study plastic pollution

Biogeosciences Net report on ocean plastic 2015




Terry Valeriano, SeaVax project team member



SUSTAINABLE FOOD SUPPLIES - We expect to be able to safely fish the oceans for food, but for how much longer? With something like 8 million tons of plastic in three oceans, we are getting to the point where we cannot stop fish becoming dangerously toxic. A project to clean the oceans of waste is looking to put a fleet of robot ships to patrol the coastlines and gyres and suck up plastic particles. This project like all other research projects needs funding if it is to see the light of day. Where seafood is an essential resource for mankind, could we ask everyone who is able to support the SeaVax Cleaner Oceans project to help our team by contributing whatever you can.




This website is Copyright © 2016 Bluebird Marine Systems Limited.   The names Bluebird™, Bluefish™, RiverVax™, SeaNet™, SeaVax™ and the blue bird in flight Bluebird trademark legend, blue bird in flight logo logo are trademarks. All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged.