Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Mediterranean facing plastic crisis

Mediterranean facing plastic crisis Gordana Sermek
07 Apr
2015
Human pressure is adding significant plastic pollution to the Mediterranean Sea, with total estimates ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 tons

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed the extent to which the Mediterranean is becoming filled with discarded plastic, with plastic density estimates as high as one item per 4m2. The study concludes that the total amount of floating plastic could be as high as 3,000 tons.

The sampling process took place in twenty-eight sites across the Mediterranean, including the waters of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus.

These results also confirmed that the Mediterranean has one of the highest concentrations of plastic in the world, with only the north and south gyres (rotating ocean currents) of the Atlantic Ocean containing a larger area of floating plastic. The next highest concentrations can be found in the gyres of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. 

plasticchartRanges of surface plastic concentrations measured in the Mediterranean Sea, and reported for the open ocean (Image: PLOS ONE)

‘Plastic concentrations in the Mediterranean are comparable to those found in the five subtropical gyres,’ says Andrés Cózar from the University of Cádiz, Puerto Real, Spain, and lead author of the study. ‘We still know little about other marginal seas, such as the China Sea, Red Sea, North Sea. But now we know that the Mediterranean shows one of the highest levels of plastic pollution in the world.’

The study suggests that the Mediterranean’s high concentration of plastics could be a result of, firstly, the high population around the Sea, discarding plastic items directly into the Mediterranean. While noting that there have been no proper estimates for the exact volumes of this plastic, the study points out that the Danube is ‘conservatively estimated’ to be depositing 1,533 tons of plastic into the Black Sea each year, a figure which the Nile alone could well be matching into the Mediterranean.

A second source could be from the Atlantic, where ‘light Atlantic water’ flows over the ‘denser, deeper outflow of Mediterranean water’ through the Strait of Gibraltar, resulting in the Mediterranean acting as a ‘convective basin’ for the Atlantic.

The Mediterranean Sea represents less than one per cent of the global ocean area, but is home to between four and 18 per cent of all marine species. Fishing industry, aquaculture, maritime transport and coastal tourism are all key sources of income for the Mediterranean nations, all of which could be significantly impacted by the growing problems associated with marine plastic pollution.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…