The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 25, 2009

Plastics in the Sargasso Sea. Researchers knew about this… WHEN?!

It’s Science Wednesday here at Fake Plastic Fish! Thanks to Wallace “J.” Nichols for forwarding the following article to me. Nichols is the Founder/Co-Director of

Here’s a summary of the article. Based on what we know about marine plastic, can you guess when it was written?

ABSTRACT Plastic particles, in concentrations averaging 3500 pieces and 290 grams per square kilometer, are widespread in the western Sargasso Sea. Pieces are brittle, apparently due to the weathering of the plasticizers, and many are in a pellet shape about 0.25 to 0.5 centimeters in diameter. the particles are surfaces for the attachment of diatoms and hydroids. Increasing production of plastics, combined with present waste-disposal practices, will undoubtedly lead to increases in the concentrations of these particles. Plastics could be a source of some of the polychlorinated biphenyls recently observed in oceanic organisms.

Did you guess? Now click here for the full article (PDF) or here for the full citation. Be sure and check out the date.

Don’t have time to read the whole thing? Here’s the key point:

Many plastics contain considerable concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) as plasticizers. If the plasticizers have been lost to seawater, as suggested above, the incorporation of PCB’s by marine organisms is possible. Polychlorinated biphenyls have recently been observed in pelagic Sargassum and oceanic animals.

Here are a few definitions, for those who might not be familiar with all these words:

Pelagic means “Of, relating to, or living in open oceans or seas rather than waters adjacent to land or inland waters.”

Sargassum are “brown algae with rounded bladders forming dense floating masses in tropical Atlantic waters as in the Sargasso Sea.”

PCB‘s are persisten organic pollutants which bioaccumulate in animals and make their way up the food chain to poison us. Before they were banned, they were used as an additive in PVC.

Makes you want sushi, doesn’t it? What each of us should be asking is, if scientists have known about the problem of plastics in the ocean for so long, why are most of us just learning about it now? My first exposure to this issue was in 2007 upon reading the article, Plastic Ocean.

When did you first hear about it?

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hayley marie Stefanski
13 years ago

fake plastic fish is so stuipd, in the ocean. It loooks horrible.

Robert Kernodle
13 years ago

Massive plastic pollution of Earth’s oceans seems to be subdued knowledge. Key people have known about this problem first-hand for over twetnty years. It was really bad back then, so it must be really, REALLY bad today.

Amazingly, I saw a science website article published in 2009 claiming that scientists JUST DISCOVERED the “North Pacific Garbage Patch”, which was well traveled and described in painstaking detail in the 1980’s!!

How can a science publication be so stupid as to make this claim– as though the “Garbage Patch” were very recent knowledge?

Most people do NOT travel the oceans, let alone travel vast stretches of oceans, to actually see the ocean. We are so isolated on land in our own lives that we very literally CANNOT see the vastness of the water and the vastness of the pollution. We cannot ACTUALLY see it, until it floats up onto shore, and by this time, it will be too late to act to reverse the problem.

Oceans are so amazingly large, and people are so amazingly isolated on land that a HUGE, HUGE problem can remain invisible right up until the moment before it starts to destroy us. It’s sort of like cancer that can remain hidden beneath the surface of a human body until it inundates the body at a critical peak of infection.

This seems to be the most insidious global water pollution crisis in the history of mankind, and so very few people seem to know about it. Most people are, therefore, like cancer victims who do NOT see it coming.

WAKE UP, people!

13 years ago

Research on garbage in Sargasso Sea?
Let's have a look to a website called 'watchthewaste'…
A french expedition is leaving soon… Check their website
it's in french, but there is a translated PDF to download :
watch the waste
They need support !

bread and beer
13 years ago

i learned of the trash heaps at sea after doing some digging around about beach wash up in Hawaii. they have always had beach wash but it use to be all from the logging industry, now it is all plastic and ship flotsam. we have a albatross about our neck , we all have to try to make a change.

13 years ago

I think I am late to the picnic. I found out about it from you.

I was a little surprised to see a date of 1972 on it. I guess I didn’t realize how far behind the times I was.

13 years ago

Um, the early 80’s – Sesame Street had cartoons of plastic washing up onto the beach…

13 years ago

See, now, this is exactly the kind of thing that just pisses me off. My response to it is also why my friends call me a reactionary, over-zealous conspiracy theorist. But I believe you ask the right questions, Beth: Scientists knew about this when … and we’re only catching up to them *NOW*?!?!?

13 years ago

I learned about this in 2001, I think, when I watched the first Synthetic Seas video from Algalita Marine Research Foundation. I show the video at teacher workshops I give through my job, and I feel that it’s the most important thing that I do. So many people have still never heard of this problem and are blown away by the (now outdated – it’s so much worse!) statistics in the video. Hopefully some of them become inspired to DO SOMETHING.

13 years ago

It’s not just the Sargasso Sea. I heard a great BBC Radio news report (from a podcast) about how little plastic pellets from the plastic-making process are washing up on pristine beaches in the North Atlantic (e.g. Scotland, etc). Apparently, it’s not just a few pellets here and there…it’s rafts of them…as in soon we’ll all be arse deep in plastic pellets.

13 years ago

Hi Beth,
I just found your comment on my blog, and I’m not sure you’d see my reply… as well as wanted to check out your site. This is great, thank you.

Yes, I use my plastic bags… but we also built our home out of beatle kill wood we harvested and all used/salvaged materials. We are completely off-grid, with solar electricity not just for our home, but for our entire guest ranch. No need for much except lights – we have no hair dryers, dish washers, clothes dryers, microwave ovens, toasters, TV, radios, cell phones, video games,… what else… we DO have a lap top computer, that’s how we run our business and share the word. Thank goodness. And besides my monthly trip to town in my husbands truck, I too don’t own a vehicle. I ride horses. No joke. I have yet to met others living more green, more in touch with the earth, but I still stive to learn more. Thus… I read sites like yours to see how folks in town and the cities are learning and getting by, and sharing and helping each other. Always more to learn. I figure the best thing we can do is have an open mind, and try to teach by example. Not judgement. Good luck and lets keep on doing all we can to care for and share this beautiful world of ours.
Gin at High Mountain Muse

13 years ago

It was about 3 years ago for me when my job took me to a place where this was area of research and concern…

Anarres Natural Health
13 years ago

I lived in an anti-everything-contemporary @narchist commune in the 80s, and I'm sure we went on about a plastic apocalypse in a vague way, but my awareness of endocrine disruption and my boycott of plastics (versus avoidance) began with Plastic Oceans a few years ago. That's how I found you – looking for Plastic Oceans!

It's sickening. I truly want to cry. The chickens have come to roost in our bodies already.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

13 years ago

As in that anti-drug commercial from 1987 – I learned it by watching you!

13 years ago

I learned about this in college while getting my degree in Environmental Studies. Probably 2005 would be a good estimate. I have learned more details about it recently though, and only because I’ve gone looking :-)