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Concept: Marine debris


The subtropical ocean gyres are recognized as great marine accummulation zones of floating plastic debris; however, the possibility of plastic accumulation at polar latitudes has been overlooked because of the lack of nearby pollution sources. In the present study, the Arctic Ocean was extensively sampled for floating plastic debris from the Tara Oceans circumpolar expedition. Although plastic debris was scarce or absent in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations (hundreds of thousands of pieces per square kilometer) in the northernmost and easternmost areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. The fragmentation and typology of the plastic suggested an abundant presence of aged debris that originated from distant sources. This hypothesis was corroborated by the relatively high ratios of marine surface plastic to local pollution sources. Surface circulation models and field data showed that the poleward branch of the Thermohaline Circulation transfers floating debris from the North Atlantic to the Greenland and Barents seas, which would be a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt. Given the limited surface transport of the plastic that accumulated here and the mechanisms acting for the downward transport, the seafloor beneath this Arctic sector is hypothesized as an important sink of plastic debris.

Concepts: Earth, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Arctic, Antarctica, Marine debris


Concentrations of floating plastic were measured throughout the Mediterranean Sea to assess whether this basin can be regarded as a great accumulation region of plastic debris. We found that the average density of plastic (1 item per 4 m2), as well as its frequency of occurrence (100% of the sites sampled), are comparable to the accumulation zones described for the five subtropical ocean gyres. Plastic debris in the Mediterranean surface waters was dominated by millimeter-sized fragments, but showed a higher proportion of large plastic objects than that present in oceanic gyres, reflecting the closer connection with pollution sources. The accumulation of floating plastic in the Mediterranean Sea (between 1,000 and 3,000 tons) is likely related to the high human pressure together with the hydrodynamics of this semi-enclosed basin, with outflow mainly occurring through a deep water layer. Given the biological richness and concentration of economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea, the affects of plastic pollution on marine and human life are expected to be particularly frequent in this plastic accumulation region.

Concepts: Water, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, Sea, France, Ocean, Marine debris


Few at-sea behavioural data exist for oceanic-stage neonate sea turtles, a life-stage commonly referred to as the sea turtle ‘lost years’. Historically, the long-term tracking of small, fast-growing organisms in the open ocean was logistically or technologically impossible. Here, we provide the first long-term satellite tracks of neonate sea turtles. Loggerheads (Caretta caretta) were remotely tracked in the Atlantic Ocean using small solar-powered satellite transmitters. We show that oceanic-stage turtles (i) rarely travel in Continental Shelf waters, (ii) frequently depart the currents associated with the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, (iii) travel quickly when in Gyre currents, and (iv) select sea surface habitats that are likely to provide a thermal benefit or refuge to young sea turtles, supporting growth, foraging and survival. Our satellite tracks help define Atlantic loggerhead nursery grounds and early loggerhead habitat use, allowing us to re-examine sea turtle ‘lost years’ paradigms.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Ocean, Marine debris, Sea turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Sargasso Sea


Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Coast, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris, Waste, Tonne


The calcareous sponge Paraleucilla magna, originally observed along the Brazilian coast (Atlantic Ocean), is the only allochthonous invasive species of Porifera reported in the Mediterranean Sea. A 1-year investigation of the population dynamics and life-cycle of this exotic species in the Mar Piccolo di Taranto (southern Italy, central Mediterranean Sea) has provided a good opportunity to test how environmental variations can influence its life-cycle and to ascertain what strategy can be adopted to successfully colonize a new environment. In the Mar Piccolo di Taranto, P. magna exhibits marked temporal changes in biomass. The studied specimens reproduce almost all year round, showing a seasonal pattern that peaks during warm months. This prolonged sexual activity allows P. magna to continuously produce young specimens, with repeated recruitment events taking place throughout the year, thus offsetting the seasonal mortality of adult specimens. This r-strategy enables the non-indigenous sponge to achieve a high degree of maintenance over relatively long periods (ten years at least).

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Ocean, Italy, Invasive species, Marine debris, Introduced species


Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world’s oceans from 24 expeditions (2007-2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by certain marine microalgae that can accumulate in the foodweb, posing a health threat to human seafood consumers and wildlife in coastal regions worldwide. Evidence of climatic regulation of domoic acid in shellfish over the past 20 y in the Northern California Current regime is shown. The timing of elevated domoic acid is strongly related to warm phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Oceanic Niño Index, an indicator of El Niño events. Ocean conditions in the northeast Pacific that are associated with warm phases of these indices, including changes in prevailing currents and advection of anomalously warm water masses onto the continental shelf, are hypothesized to contribute to increases in this toxin. We present an applied domoic acid risk assessment model for the US West Coast based on combined climatic and local variables. Evidence of regional- to basin-scale controls on domoic acid has not previously been presented. Our findings have implications in coastal zones worldwide that are affected by this toxin and are particularly relevant given the increased frequency of anomalously warm ocean conditions.

Concepts: United States, Climate, Atlantic Ocean, California, Ocean, Oceanic climate, Marine debris, Neurotoxin


Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. Here we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information. Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Concepts: Oceanography, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Plastic, Pacific Ocean, Sea, Ocean, Marine debris


The El Niño-Southern Oscillation is the dominant mode of interannual climate variability across the Pacific Ocean basin, with influence on the global climate. The two end members of the cycle, El Niño and La Niña, force anomalous oceanographic conditions and coastal response along the Pacific margin, exposing many heavily populated regions to increased coastal flooding and erosion hazards. However, a quantitative record of coastal impacts is spatially limited and temporally restricted to only the most recent events. Here we report on the oceanographic forcing and coastal response of the 2015-2016 El Niño, one of the strongest of the last 145 years. We show that winter wave energy equalled or exceeded measured historical maxima across the US West Coast, corresponding to anomalously large beach erosion across the region. Shorelines in many areas retreated beyond previously measured landward extremes, particularly along the sediment-starved California coast.

Concepts: United States, Weather, California, Alaska, Ocean, Marine debris, San Diego, San Francisco


There is a rising concern regarding the accumulation of floating plastic debris in the open ocean. However, the magnitude and the fate of this pollution are still open questions. Using data from the Malaspina 2010 circumnavigation, regional surveys, and previously published reports, we show a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the open ocean, mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of each of the five subtropical gyres with comparable density. However, the global load of plastic on the open ocean surface was estimated to be on the order of tens of thousands of tons, far less than expected. Our observations of the size distribution of floating plastic debris point at important size-selective sinks removing millimeter-sized fragments of floating plastic on a large scale. This sink may involve a combination of fast nano-fragmentation of the microplastic into particles of microns or smaller, their transference to the ocean interior by food webs and ballasting processes, and processes yet to be discovered. Resolving the fate of the missing plastic debris is of fundamental importance to determine the nature and significance of the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean.

Concepts: Mathematics, Ocean, Marine debris, Open problem, Convergence, The Missing, Sink, Convergence zone