Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Chinese cargo vessels produce most plastic garbage floating in Atlantic ocean, study finds

Chinese cargo vessels produce most plastic and other garbage floating in Atlantic ocean, study finds

Asia has surpassed South America as the largest producer of ocean plastic waste, according to researchers

Chinese police officers watch a cargo ship at a port in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong province on March 8, 2018.AFP/Getty Images
Chinese merchant ships might be the leading cause of the plastic garbage accumulating in the the Atlantic ocean, according to a study published this week. 
Researchers from Canada and South Africa who travelled to Inaccessible Island, which sits in the South Atlantic Ocean, found that 73 percent of the plastic bottles that had washed ashore  comes from China.
“When we were (on the island) last year, it was really shocking how much drink bottles had just come to dominate,” lead author Peter Ryan told BBC.
The study is the result of three trips made by researchers to the island in 1984, 2009 and 2018 to study the plastic debris accumulated on the island.
During the first trip, researchers found that two-thirds of the plastic bottles had come from South America, judging by their labels. The oldest container found on the island was a high-density polyethylene canister made in 1971.
By 2009, the tide had shifted, with China surpassing South America in the amount of plastic load washed up on the island. In 2018, 73 per cent of the plastic bottles collected came from China. 
“What was really shocking was how the origin had shifted from largely South American, which is what you would expect from somewhere like Inaccessible Island because it’s downwind from South America to predominantly Asian,” Ryan added. 
Furthermore, 90 percent of the bottles that travelled from China were date-stamped within the last two years — ruling out the possibility that they could have travelled from land via ocean currents, which would take between three to five years.
“My initial thought was that it was going to be fishing fleets,” Ryan told BBC. “Fishing boats tend to be a little bit more Wild West than the merchant fleets as a rule, but the fact that it’s primarily Chinese doesn’t really fit with that because the predominant fishing fleets in the South Atlantic are Taiwanese and Japanese,” he added. 
Researchers found that while the number of Asian fishing vessels in the South Atlantic have remained stable, the number of cargo vessels — namely, Chinese — had increased since the 1980s, which narrowed down merchant vessels as the primary source.
“I think the evidence is pretty strong that it’s coming from merchant shipping,” he said, adding that he was initially surprised by results since he assumed that the merchant ships would be tied by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships regulations. “I think we need to look quite carefully at better monitoring and enforcement of regulations,” he said.
One of the study authors, Robert A. Ronconib is affiliated with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 2N6, Canada.

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