The Azores: First Witness to Global Marine Plastic Pollution


Having left Bordeaux on March 15, the Race for Water Odyssey arrived in the Azores on Friday afternoon, the location of the expedition’s first scientific analyses.

© Race for Water 2015 / Peter Charaf

It is estimated that 80% of pollution in the ocean is plastic. This debris has devastating effects on marine ecosystems and, as a consequence, on human beings. Entanglement, lacerations, infections or death by drowning, suffocation, or strangulation, the negative impacts of plastic pollution on marine animals are numerous. Micro-plastics (<5mm) suspended in surface water can be ingested by aquatic organisms, such as plankton, and infect the entire food chain. Furthermore, as plastics disintegrate, they can release toxic compounds that were added in the manufacturing process (flame retardants, PCBs, bisphenol A, phthalates). These toxins can also contaminate the food chain. Finally, floating plastics create new habitats that further enable the transport of invasive (alien) species over long distances.

© Race for Water 2015 / Peter Charaf

As part of the “Race for Water Odyssey”, a team of scientists is evaluating the scale of plastic contamination by going onto islands located in the trash vortexes created by this pollution. These islands act as natural barriers to the long-term transport of marine plastics, by trapping the drifting plastics on their shores. As such, their beaches provide valuable and representative sites for evaluating the types and the quantities of plastics present in the surrounding waters. The Archipelago of the Azores, located close to the center of the North Atlantic trash gyre greatly suffers from plastic pollution. Thus, it constitutes the first witness of an unprecedented environmental disaster.

A Carefully Studied and Adapted Scientific Protocol

© Race for Water 2015 / Peter Charaf

Five beaches were chosen in collaboration with local experts such as Carla Damaso, —> Read More