The amount of waste plastic in the oceans could treble in the next 10 years unless urgent action is taken to curb the problem, a report has warned.
It’s estimated that a frankly staggering 12 million tonnes of plastic rubbish is dumped into the oceans every single year.
Plastic waste, along with global warming and industrial pollution present the largest dangers to our oceans warns the Foresight Future of the Sea Report for the Government.
The scientists behind the report warned of the danger of the oceans being “out of sight, out of mind”, with more known about the surface of Mars and the Moon than the deep sea bed.
Professor Ed Hill, executive director of the National Oceanography Centre, said it was time to change the attitude of what goes on below the surface as “out of sight, out of mind” and have more of a “Mission to Planet Ocean” approach.
He said: “When people get to see what is in the ocean, and the Blue Planet series and so on have helped people to visualise it, and then I think their reaction is twofold, one is complete wonder at what is there, and in other cases complete horror at what we’re potentially doing to it.
“It’s this sense of the unexplored world on our own planet, but also it’s important to us, we know less about the bottom of the sea than the moon or Mars, but nothing lives on the moon or Mars, but things live in our ocean and they’re vitally important to us.”
Plastic pollution, which is set to treble between 2015 and 2025 without intervention, has a physical presence in the oceans, and can accumulate on the coasts or in particular areas of the sea.
The spread of plastic pollution in our oceans has gotten so bad that in September last year scientists actually found lumps of polystyrene near the North Pole.
The ocean and its health is hugely important to the UK, with 95% of the country’s international trade travelling by sea, the internet carried by subsea cables, and oceans storing carbon dioxide and heat and producing oxygen and food.
But there are also opportunities for the UK to cash in the global “ocean economy” – which is set to double to 3 trillion US dollars (£2 trillion) by 2030 – in areas where the country is a world leader, such as offshore wind.
There are major opportunities for robotics, artificial intelligence and automated technology to fill gaps in understanding of the oceans and how best to manage them, the experts said.
For example, the submarine Boaty McBoatface has recently completed an unmanned mission under Antarctica’s ice shelf to assess whether the ice is melting from below due to warmer seas.
Satellite technology can prevent illegal fishing and autonomous underwater sensors can check if carbon dioxide is escaping from subsea carbon storage facilities.