Plastic makes up nearly 70% of all ocean litter

Every day, humans generate millions of tons of garbage. And although a lot of that litter ends up in landfills, some enters the ocean by accident or through illegal dumping. Now, researchers have compiled a new database that reveals just how widespread ocean litter is, from the infamous “garbage patches” of the North Pacific to piles of trash on beaches around the world and in the deep ocean. LITTERBASE, and its accompanying maps, together draw on data from more than a thousand studies from 1960 to 2017. The most polluted spots, which host more than 10 billion pieces of litter per square kilometer, include beaches and patches of sea off the coasts of South Korea and Jordan. Most of that litter—close to 70%—is plastics, with metal and glass contributing to the remainder. And microplastics, shards of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, are particularly prevalent. That’s because large pieces of litter break down in sunlight and ocean currents. All of our litter means that life under the sea isn’t easy: The database also reveals that more than 1200 aquatic species—mammals, fish, crustaceans, and others—are coming into contact with the litter by eating it, living in it, or becoming entangled.