By Melissa Block
- Published on June 17, 2014 by NPR
The vast majority of debris in the ocean — about 75 percent of it — is made of plastic. It can consist of anything from plastic bottles to packaging materials, but whatever form it takes, it doesn't go away easily.
While plastic may break down into smaller and smaller pieces, some as small as grains of sand, these pieces are never truly biodegradable. The plastic bits, some small enough that they're called microplastics, threaten marine life like fish and birds, explains Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the U.K.
In this interview by NPR we get to hear from plastic pollution researcher Richard Thompson. He has been working on the effects of plastic in the marine environment for over a decade. In 2004 his group showed that waters around the north-east Atlantic had become contaminated by microscopic fragments of plastic or ‘microplastic’ and that the abundance of this material had increased significantly over the last 40 years.