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Collecting plastic litter floating in the ocean will solve the problem

Collecting floating plastic litter might seem like a good idea but it may divert attention from more cost-effective and efficient measures, such as preventing plastic pollution from entering the ocean in the first place.  And it may cause more harm than good. Plastic in the ocean constantly moves around and is mostly found in low concentrations and throughout the water column.  This makes surface clean-up impractical and ineffective. Due to the scale needed, collecting surface plastics is expected to have very high costs.[1]Researchers are concerned as well with potential high risks and negative effects on marine life and biodiversity associated with surface clean-up schemes.[2]That’s because sea life could become attracted to clean-up gear and exposed to more plastic or entangled in.[3] Among other issues, the surface clean-up equipment itself is expected to become encrusted with biofouling organisms[4]further complicating this potential solution.

Spending time and money collecting plastic floating in the ocean may distract from more practical actions such as coastal clean-ups. [5]

Removing plastic litter from one beach might seem like a mere drop in the ocean when compared to the scale of the problem but clean-ups can be effective when they target ecologically sensitive or economically valuable areas, including places important for fisheries and tourism.

Such efforts can help keep local habitats healthy and keep plastics out of the ocean. They also help raise awareness about the problem of plastic pollution and can spur individual and local action, and help build public support for positive change from producers and governments.[6]

[1] NOAA Office of Response and Restoration. 
[2] Southern Fried Science, 2015. Three facts (and a lot of questions) about The Ocean Cleanup. Blog post. Available here
[3] Southern Fried Science, 2015. Three facts (and a lot of questions) about The Ocean Cleanup. Blog post. Available here
[4] Deep Sea News, 2014. The Ocean Cleanup, Part 2: Technical review of the feasibility study. Available here
[5] OpenChannels, 2014. Interactive panel discussion on utility and feasibility of cleaning up ocean plastics. Video. Available here
[6] NOAA Marine Debris Program, 2016.

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