Scientists Discover Microplastics in Sea Breeze for the First Time
For the first time, researchers have discovered microplastics in sea spray, suggesting that sea breeze is not always clean to breathe, contrary to popular belief.
In a study published in PlosOne, scientists stated as much as 1,36,000 tons of microplastic — plastic debris often invisible to the naked eye — is blown ashore every year with the sea breeze, released into the atmosphere and back onto land.
“We keep putting millions of tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year. This research shows that it is not going to stay there forever. The ocean is giving it back to us,” said co-author of the study Steve Allen, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Strathclyde to The Guardian. “Some plastic particles could be leaving the sea and entering the atmosphere along with sea salt, bacteria, viruses, and algae,” he added.
In the study, researchers used a cloud catcher machine to capture water droplets from sea spray at Mimizan beach on the south-west Atlantic coast of France. For a week, they examined microplastics in a variety of conditions, including storm and sea fog, and found plastic fragments between 5-140 micrometers long.
Although research on the health effects of eating or breathing microplastics is still in its preliminary stages, some studies have found that the chemicals contained in them are delivered to the lower parts of the lungs and maybe even into the bloodstream. This increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
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An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enters the sea from land and coasts. With this finding, researchers believe they may have also solved this mystery of where the “missing” oceanic plastic goes after it enters the sea. “The transport mechanism is quite complicated” said Dr. Deonie Allen, the study’s co-research lead to The Guardian. “We know plastic comes out of rivers into the sea. Some goes into gyres, some sinks and goes into the sediment, but the quantity on the seafloor doesn’t match the amount of plastic that would make up this equation. There’s a quantity of missing plastic.” She added, “Now we know it can come back. It is the first opening line of a new discussion.”