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Plastics in the marine environmentSince the middle of the 20th century the worldwide production of plastics is increasing exponentially. This leads to an increasing contamination of especially the marine environment with this long living material, since plastic waste is often disposed into the ocean or because raw material and products get lost during transport on seaway.
Despite the prohibition of ocean dumping of all kinds of plastic waste since 1983, the monitoring-programs show that the amounts of plastic waste in the world oceans increase and that plastic accumulates on beaches, in the sediments and in marine gyres like e.g. in the North Pacific Ocean.
However, only recently scientists of different environmental research areas have started looking at this problem.
Special attention was attracted by so called microplastics during the last few years. Microplastics are characterized by their small size of less than one millimetre and have even been found in the circulation system of mussels.
Besides the well-known risks of plastics such as entanglement of marine animals in nets, swallowing of plastic bags and the resulting reduction of life quality or even death, plastics retrieve another hazard for the marine environment: they are enriched with additives such as plasticizers or flame retardants to improve the inherent properties. Furthermore, plastics contain non-intentionally added ingredients like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are inserted into the products through the addition of plasticizer-oils and soot. Aside from that, plastics are excellent absorber materials for organic pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) out of the ocean water.
This way, plastics serve as a transport vector for pollutants into remote areas on the one hand, and on the other hand they account for the accumulation of pollutants along marine food chains up to humans.