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Microplastics in the seas

Author(s): Law KL, Thompson RC

Abstract

Plastic debris in the marine environment is more than just an unsightly problem. Images of beach litter and large floating debris may first come to mind, but much recent concern about plastic pollution has focused on microplastic particles too small to be easily detected by eye (see the figure). Microplastics are likely the most numerically abundant items of plastic debris in the ocean today, and quantities will inevitably increase, in part because large, single plastic items ultimately degrade into millions of microplastic pieces. Microplastics are of environmental concern because their size (millimeters or smaller) renders them accessible to a wide range of organisms at least as small as zooplankton, with potential for physical and toxicological harm.

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