Microplastics in the oceans: the solutions lie on land

Photo N.Pansiot/Tara Expeditions

By André Abreu, Head of International Policy, Tara Expeditions Foundation, and Maria Luiza Pedrotti, Researcher, CNRS / The Villefranche Oceanographic Laboratory

There are 5,250 billion1 plastic particles floating on the surface on the world’s seas and oceans, equivalent to 268,940 metric tons of waste. These fragments move with the currents before washing up on beaches, islands, coral atolls or one of the fi ve great ocean gyres. As early as 2010, Tara Expeditions Foundation was one of the first bodies to undertake a scientific examination of microplastic pollution in the oceans, an issue previously subject to very limited scientific study. Tara wanted to use its ocean study programs to understand the impact of this pollution on marine life. In 2014, Tara conducted a seven-month expedition in the Mediterranean Sea to improve understanding of the consequences in a semienclosed sea. The expedition highlighted the fact that microplastics are heavily colonized by bacteria. Research into sea-borne plastic has since become an integral part of Tara’s work. Excessive consumption of plastics, and the waste this generates, has a massive impact on the natural world and the marine environment in particular. In this knowledge, Tara conducts scientific studies to improve our understanding of the risks to humans and marine ecosystems. Faced with the gravity of the situation Tara is convinced that, if we are to avoid plastics ending up in the oceans, the solutions lie on land. This involves a collective re-engineering of how we produce and consume, for example banning single-use plastic bags.


1 Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., Law, K.L., 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768–771. doi:10.1126/science.1260352