It is no secret that the world’s oceans are swimming with plastic debris – the first floating masses of trash were discovered in the 1990s. But researchers are starting to get a better sense of the size and scope of the problem.
A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One estimates that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, large and small, weighing 269,000 tons, can be found throughout the world’s oceans, even in the most remote reaches.
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette arrived back in its homeport of Honolulu a few days ago after a month in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The team of 17 scientists collected nearly 50 metric tons of marine debris, which threatens monk seals, sea turtles and other marine life in the coral reef ecosystem, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). NOAA has conducted annual removal missions of marine debris in the NWHI since 1996 as part of a coral restoration effort.
Many shark populations have plummeted in the past three decades as a result of excessive harvesting – for their fins, as an incidental catch of fisheries targeting other species, and in recreational fisheries. This is particularly true for oceanic species. However, until now, a lack of data prevented scientists from properly quantifying the status of Pacific reef sharks at a large geographic scale.
Debris from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011 could reach the United States as early as this winter, according to predictions by NOAA scientists. However, they warn there is still a large amount of uncertainty over exactly what is still floating, where it's located, where it will go, and when it will arrive. Responders now have a challenging, if not impossible situation on their hands: How do you deal with debris that could now impact U.S. shores, but is difficult to find?
A new NOAA report of data collected in 2005 will help the agency’s scientists better monitor progress in reducing bycatch – the non-target fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds caught incidentally in fishing.
Coral reefs, often called "rainforests of the ocean" are delicate, vital, and threatened natural resources. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is raising awareness on the importance coral reefs play in our ocean environment.