A 60-year study on plankton has revealed the dark truth about the history of ocean plastic waste. The study shows how plastics have been polluting our oceans since at least the 1950s and how the problem has steadily gotten worse in the six decades since.

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The first documented case of ocean plastic waste was fishing twine discovered in the 1950s. The next mention is a carrier bag in 1965. From there, the data shows that plastic waste significantly increased between 1970 and the early 2000s, with fishing lines being the main source of recovered waste.

Related: Microplastic rain: new study reveals microplastics are in the air

The study, which spanned 60 years, was published in an edition of Nature Communications. Researchers used a device to gather pelagic plankton in the ocean and covered an area over 6.5m nautical miles in the process. The plankton are an important source of information on water quality and serve as a primary food source for whales.

As they towed the device across the ocean, the scientists recorded whenever their equipment encountered ocean waste. The depth at which they towed the device was around 7 meters, which is where many marine organisms reside. A good portion of the plastic waste was uncovered in the North Sea, though the researchers say the problem is widespread.

“The message is that marine plastic has increased significantly and we are seeing it all over the world, even in places where you would not want to, like the Northwest Passage and other parts of the Arctic,” marine biologist Clare Ostle shared.

While the numbers are alarming, there are some positive trends in the data. Ostle noted that the frequency of plastic waste has leveled off in recent years. This is likely due to an increased awareness on behalf of the public. It should be noted, however, that the numbers do not represent how much plastic is in the ocean at a given time and simply give us an insight into broader trends. While the numbers are down, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done if we want to make a lasting impact on ocean plastic waste.

Via The Guardian

Image via Flockine