French and Belgian marine biologists say there are some 250 billion micro-sized pieces of plastic floating in the Mediterranean, posing a significant threat to marine wildlife.
Volunteers with Expedition MED (Mediterranean in Danger) took water samples off the coasts of France, northern Italy and Spain last July at a surface-level depth of four to six inches, AFP reports. The teams conducted the research from a 55-foot yacht.
Researchers found 4,371 pieces of micro-debris with an average weight of 1.8 milligrams (0.00006 of an ounce) in the samples, and this sum “extrapolates to roughly 500 tonnes for the entire Mediterranean,” said Francois Galgani, of the French Institute for Exploration of the Sea (Ifremer).
Ninety percent of the samples contained the minuscule fragments, which total 250 billion pieces by the scientists’ reckoning.
Further samples off Gibraltar, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sardinia and southern Italy will hopefully give researchers a more comprehensive view of the issue in 2011, AFP reports.
Expedition MED says the effects of the biological hazard are far-reaching. The micro-debris becomes mixed with plankton and is eaten by small fish, working its way up the food chain to larger marine animals like seals and tortoises.
“The only solution is to stop micro-debris at the sources,” said Expedition MED’s Bruno Dumontet, according to AFP.