A significant proportion of marine plastic comes from ships dumping their litter at sea in contravention of international law, according to new research led by the University of Cape Town (UCT). This is contrary to the widely held assumption that most marine plastic comes from land-based sources.
The researchers discovered that Inaccessible Island – a small and isolated island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, which is thousands of kilometres from any continent – is full of plastic most of which does not come from land.
“Recent studies of litter in the North Pacific garbage patch and remote islands in the Pacific Ocean show that fishing gear and other shipping-related equipment account for much of the mass of plastic at sea,” says UCT Professor Peter Ryan, an expert on marine plastics who led the research. “The challenge comes in understanding the origin of ‘general’ litter – food packaging and domestic products – which could come from ships or land-based sources.”