Quirks & Quarks

Plastics - a New "Silent Spring"?

Dr. Boris Worm, one of Canada's most eminent marine biologists, is warning of a plastic pollution crisis in the oceans that is harming wildlife and could affect human health.

Canadian researchers suggests we may be approaching a crisis with a pervasive marine plastic

 In recent years on Quirks & Quarks, we've reported on the discovery of plastic debris, from floating chunks to tiny fragments, in a wide variety of marine environments, including mid-Pacific gyres, remote beaches and deep-water sediments. It's becoming increasingly clear that the huge increase in plastic production in the last half-century has led to a global contamination problem.

Now, Dr. Boris Worm, one of Canada's leading marine biologists and a professor at Dalhousie University, thinks it's time to sound the alarm about this insidious pollution problem. Dr. Worm thinks we might be on the verge of a second "Silent Spring" - echoing Rachel Carson's 1960's era call to action to respond to the problems with the pesticide DDT. Dr. Worm's call to action is motivated by recent work showing that 90% of seabirds are now suffering from ingested plastic in their guts.

He suggests that seabirds are a sentinel group, and that we may see increasing effects of plastic debris in marine ecosystems, with plastic making its way into the food chain, and perhaps even into humans through consumption of seafood.

Related Links

- Dr. Worm's Commentary in PNAS
Study on plastic in Seabirds in PNAS
- CBC News
 feature on Dr. Worm's commentary
- Quirks story on microplastics in Arctic Ice
- Quirks story on estimating the volume of plastic debris in the ocean
Quirks story on microplastics in the St. Lawrence
Quirks story on plastics in marine worms (scroll to bottom)
Quirks feature on Oceans of Plastic