Since three weeks we are sampling the waters off Peru, which is an area we explore since almost ten years. We came here for several large scale surveys, the first one took place in 2008, then 2012, 2013, 2015.
From the beginning of this cruise on, we observed a lot of plastic trash in the water. In some places, particles of ~0.5 cm in diameter, clearly derived from plastic packing and bags, are swimming in the water in a high abundance- it almost looks like a plastic snow storm in the water. Besides, we are observing larger plastic waste swimming at the surface and even the only whale we saw was caught in some sort of fishing net. While it is obvious that the increasing abundance of plastics is problematic per se, plastics possibly also comprise toxic compounds- this is what we cannot even be sure of.
My colleague Nicole Posth from the University of Southern Denmark just started a large scale project which aims to understand plastic cycling and how plastics in the Oceans alter the Ocean carbon pump. Given what we observe, here, in one of the most productive and economically important regions of the global Ocean, this is truly needed.
Most irritating is the time frame of this change: This abundance of plastics was not visible five or ten years, ago, and to us it is deeply saddening. And even worse, given the ongoing industrialization of developing countries, and their increased plastics production and consumption, it is a given that this will get much worse.
Leni and I were discussing this obvious change quite a bit over the last days and we were wondering how to explain this to our children. We messed it up, the generation of our parents messed it up- I seriously doubt that there is a way the Ocean can recover from this.
Carolin Löscher, Helena Hauss, SDU/ GEOMAR