Scientists Are Mapping the Ocean's Plastic Because 99 Percent Is Missing

Last week, some strange news swept the science internet: Much of the plastic scientists expected to find on the ocean's surface is gone, and no one knows exactly where it is. Now the scientists behind the research have shared a first-of-its-kind map of ocean plastic with National Geographic--and it could be key to solving the mystery.

As the study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week explains, there should be far more plastic floating on the surface of the ocean than there is. But a team led by Andres Cozar Cabañas sailed the world for nine months collecting surface data from all over the globe, and found way less plastic than they expected. And that's not good news.

Rather, it's pretty terrifying. It's not as though the plastic we put into the ocean is simply resolving itself. Instead, it's likely that as it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, fish are eating it. Which, thanks to the magic of the food chain, means we're eating it too—in fact, there's a whole new ecosystem based around this plastic, called the Plastisphere. The first map of the plastic was created by Cozar and his team from over 3,000 samples taken over the course of their expedition:

Scientists Are Mapping the Ocean's Plastic Because 99 Percent Is Missing


A whole field of study is emerging out of our ocean-bound trash—including the effort to learn how it even functions. "[If] we don't know where it is or how it is impacting organisms," said Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association to NatGeo, "we can't tell the person on the street how big the problem is."

With their new map, they're charting a course for being able to talk about ocean plastic in a complete way. The question is whether we'll we be smart enough to listen—and act. [National Geographic]