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Marine Microplastics

Study outlines challenges to ongoing clean-up of burnt and unburnt nurdles along Sri Lanka’s coastline

When a fire broke out on the deck of the M/V XPress Pearl cargo ship on May 20, 2021, an estimated 70-75 billion pellets of preproduction plastic material, known as nurdles, spilled into the ocean and along the Sri Lankan coastline. That spill of about 1,500 tons of nurdles, many of which were burnt by the fire, has threatened marine life and poses a complex clean-up challenge. A new peer-reviewed study characterizes how the fire modified the physical and chemical properties of the nurdles and proposes that these properties affected their distribution along the coast.

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Sunlight can break down marine plastic into tens of thousands of chemical compounds, study finds

Sunlight was once thought to only fragment plastics in the marine environment into smaller particles that chemically resemble the original material and persist forever. However, scientists more recently have learned that sunlight also chemically transforms plastic into a suite of polymer-, dissolved-, and gas-phased products. Now, a new study finds that this chemical reaction can produce tens of thousands of water-soluble compounds, or formulas.

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A checkup for the oceans reveals threats to human health

The health of the world’s ocean is in serious decline—and human health is suffering as a result. A comprehensive report from the Monaco Commission and co-authored by several WHOI researchers investigates the impacts of ocean pollution and recommends actions to safeguard human health.

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United States Contributions to Global Ocean Plastic Waste

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

MPC Research Specialist, Hauke Kite-Powell, has recently been appointed to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee to study U.S. contributions to global ocean plastic waste.

Microplastics & The Textile Industry

Textile World Magazine

The study of marine microplastics is not new. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has been conducting research and publishing on this subject since the 1970s. Other organizations have been active as well.

How Long Does Plastic Persist in the Ocean?

floating plastic

It can be hard to predict the average lifespan of plastics in the ocean when so many different types exist. WHOI chemists Chris Reddy and Collin Ward are working to simplify these predictions

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The many lifetimes of plastics

plastics by the numbers

Infographics strive to give us a sense of how long plastic goods will last in the environment. But is this information reliable? The findings of a new study from WHOI may surprise you.

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Plastics’ impact on oceans under scrutiny

Cape Cod Times

“We have an opportunity now, where there is public awareness,” said Mark Hahn, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “They (plastics) don’t belong there (in the ocean).”

Microplastics research needs innovation, health focus

Environmental Factor

“Studying microplastics is hard because [they are] not a single contaminant like lead or a uniform contaminant like PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls],” said NIEHS grantee Mark Hahn, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “It is a diverse and complex mixture of materials.”

Microplastics in the Ocean: Emergency or Exaggeration (event recording)

October 15, 2019 – Watch this recorded public event entitled Microplastics in the Ocean: Emergency of Exaggeration? with a keynote presentation by Dr. Kara Lavender Law on the science of ocean plastic pollution and laying the foundation for solutions.

Dr. Law is a faculty member at Sea Education Association, where she studies the distribution of plastic marine debris driven by ocean physics and the degradation and ultimate fate of plastics in the ocean.

Keynote presentation is followed by a panel discussion on the international perspectives on marine microplastics research moderated by Dr. Heather Goldstone, host of Living Lab, WCAI, Cape & Islands NPR. Panelists include:

Dr. Chelsea Rochman
University of Toronto, Canada

Dr. Hauke Kite-Powell
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S.A.

Dr. Gunnar Gerdts
Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany

Dr. Hideshige Takada
Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan

Dr. Collin Ward
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S.A.

Sponsored by the Elisabeth W. and Henry A. Morss, Jr., Colloquia Endowed Fund

Learn more about marine microplastics here:

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