Color might be one of the most common types of microplastic in the ocean – but scientists have warned that the threat to marine life has been “overlooked”.
Researchers conducted studies of the North Atlantic and estimated that every cubic meter of seawater contained an average of 0.01 flakes of color.
These can come from ships and oil rigs covered in paint to protect against corrosion, but they can flake off in the ocean and cause damage to marine life.
In their study, the scientists found that color is the second most common substance found after microplastic fibers.
How much color is there in the sea?
They discovered an estimated concentration of around 0.16 particles per cubic meter, meaning these fragments are likely to harm large numbers of marine animals in fragile ecosystems.
Color flakes were more densely distributed in the shelf seas of northwestern Europe than in open oceans.
This is the result of a new study by scientists from the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association.
Chemical analysis of part of the paint revealed high levels of copper, lead and iron.
This could pose an additional threat to both the ocean and many of the species living in it that ingest the particles.
Is there any way to reduce the amount of paint that gets into the ocean?
By examining the chemical composition of the paint, the scientists were able to identify which areas of the ships it came from.
However, in coastal areas, paint can also come from buildings, waste, and industrial sites.
Lead author Andrew Turner, Associate Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Plymouth, said, “Color particles are often an overlooked component of marine microplastics, but this study shows that they are relatively common in the ocean.
“The presence of toxic metals such as lead and copper pose additional risks to wildlife.”
They recommended using greener, non-toxic paints and limiting their entry into the oceans.
How big is the problem of microplastics?
In 2015, a study estimated that there were between 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean, but that number is likely to be much higher now.
At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year, according to the IUCN.
Most of the microplastics discovered on the ocean floor originally came from our clothing, which can be made from man-made materials such as polyester.
Thousands of plastic particles break this laundry down in the washing machine, but are not caught by standard filters.
This garbage then pollutes the oceans and can be harmful to marine life.
Large pieces of plastic now cause problems for marine animals if they are mistaken for food.