Plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea

2 February 2011

Mediterranean EnDangered (MED) has released the first findings from a three-year program of expeditions to sample plastic pollution.

In 2010, water samples were taken from the top 20 centimeters of water in the northwestern part of the Mediterranean, mainly off France and Italy, and analyzed by Pasquale Paoli University in Corsica and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Ninety percent of the samples contained microplastics—particles smaller than 5 millimeters—with some containing up to six times more micro-fragments than organic plankton. In general, micro debris floating in the sea surface reached 115,000 particles per square kilometer with a maximum of 892,000 particles/km2.

The invisible bits are either pellets used in manufacturing or the remains of decomposing plastic. It is likely that their property of fixing diffuse pollutants, such as POPs (persistent organic pollutants), results in the bioaccumulation of chemicals known to affect reproduction and immunity however the magnitude and dynamics of plastic marine pollution are poorly understood. The purpose of the MED program is to provide solid data for scientists to estimate the impact of this pollution in order to formulate the best approaches to mitigation. The Mediterranean is an enclosed sea and the expected intensification of coastal development requires significant and ambitious actions to protect this heritage.

In 2011, the MED sampling expedition will travel from the coast of southern France to Malta and across to northwestern Africa. MED is also starting a petition to urge the European Union to legislate on packaging and waste management issues.

For more information see the Expedition MED website >>