Wind is carrying microplastics to distant, clean parts of the ocean

Microplastics, the tiny bits of plastic that break free from larger items, are making their way to more remote, clear parts of the ocean. According to the new study, these plastic particles are being swept up into the air, where they travel their way to remote areas, eventually settling back into the water and the food supply.

A microplastic is a piece of plastic that measures less than 5mm in diameter — many are much smaller, including small plastic fibers that may be invisible to the eye. These particles have become a big ecological concern and may, in time, become a public health matter, too.

According to research from the Weizmann Institute of Science, these plastics were found in aerosol samples, including particles from common plastics like polypropylene, polystyrene, and polyethylene. Using calculations, the team found that the microplastics were likely derived from plastic garbage located near shorelines.

As well, the researchers found the same variety of microplastics in the ocean water as the type collected in the aerosol samples. Even more troubling, the study notes that the microplastics pulled into the atmosphere undergo chemical changes when exposed to sunlight and air. As a result, they may be even more harmful when they eventually make their way back down into the water.

Past studies have identified microplastics in a variety of sea life, including fish that eventually make their way to the food market. The findings raise questions over not only the impact these plastics have on wild and marine life, but also the potential effect on public health associated with consuming foods containing tiny bits of plastic.