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Major Chinese Marine Laboratory Endeavors to Tackle Plastic Pollution

To celebrate World Oceans Day 2018, the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QNLM) mobilized to beat plastic pollution and apply scientific and technological methods to identify the source, distribution and the extent of the damage from plastic trash.

At present, nowhere on Earth can be free from plastic trash. From the depth of 11,000 meters in the Mariana Trench to the Davis Sea along the coast of Antarctica, plastic is ubiquitous in the oceans. Statistics show that more than 8 million tons of plastic waste are poured into the oceans every year, accounting for 80% of the global marine debris and causing serious impact on marine environment.

Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QNLM), approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China for a pilot run, has noticed the impact of plastic trash on the marine environment. Since its establishment, QNLM scientists aboard research vessels have carried out scientific expeditions on the source, distribution and hazard of plastic waste. According to Dr. SUN Xiaoxia, Research Professor of the QNLM Laboratory for Marine Ecology and Environmental Science, the plastic trash come mainly from three sources. A large amount originates from the sources on land. Used agricultural films, packaging plastic bags and disposable plastic tableware are discarded without appropriate waste management, entering into the ocean via rivers. Another main source is ocean vessels. The plastic waste generated from the maritime shipping, fishery production and research activities inevitably come into the ocean due to improper disposal. Moreover, plastic bags flying in the air are blown into the sea by wind and currents.

QNLM scientist

Ocean plastic has turned up literally everywhere and moved to the deep sea in various ways. Some denser plastics sink to the seabed directly, while the less dense ones mix with muddy sand or move with complex currents, and gradually reach the bottom. Some are eaten by marine organisms, going deep in the form of excrement and others adhere to marine organisms, falling to the deep sea as they move vertically in the water column.

qnlm plastic sample collection

“Known as ‘white pollution’, plastic trash may cause severe damage to the deep-sea ecosystems,” Sun said. Plastic waste hardly degrades in the sea water. It continuously releases toxic chemicals to the surrounding waters and absorbs heavy metal ions and persistent organic pollutants. At the same time, it has negative impact on deep-sea ecosystems. As it can be easily attached to the deep-sea creatures or be mistakenly eaten, plastic not only causes damage to their bodies, but also interferes with the predation process, threatening the growth, reproduction or even survival of deep-sea species. Compared to other sea areas where plastic products can be gradually broken up due to photochemical reactions and physical effects such as wind, waves, and currents, the deep sea provides unfavorable conditions for the degradation of plastic waste. In the deep sea, the plastic degradation process is much longer as there is no light and seawater flow is weak. In addition, the deep sea environment is special as it features faint light, low temperature and high pressure, thus, deep-sea bio-communities are relatively simple and the ecological system is fragile. The potential damage of plastic trash to deep-sea ecosystems may be even worse than thought.

In recent years, with emphasis on the construction of a more sustainable civilization focusedon environmental protection, China has put forward a series of policies and measures to deal with “white pollution”. QNLM has been playing an active role in this field contributing to establishing a community with a shared future for mankind. In honor of the World Ocean Day, QNLM takes on the challenge of finding effective solutions to plastic waste. In the meantime, QNLM endeavors to arouse the public awareness on the impact of plastic pollution to the marine environment through all channels available and advocates environmentally friendly behaviors. QNLM pledges to take actions to beat plastic pollution and contribute to the protection of our blue planet!

Learn more about China's QNLM: http://www.qnlm.ac/en/index

 

Images (Top down):

  • "QNLM scientist collecting plastic samples" © QNLM
  • "Plastic Sample Collection" © QNLM

 

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