Maritime rope may be a large source of microplastics pollution

Maritime rope may be a large source of microplastics pollution
The researchers compared various types of commonly used polymer rope
The researchers compared various types of commonly used polymer rope
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The researchers compared various types of commonly used polymer rope
The researchers compared various types of commonly used polymer rope

We've been hearing a lot lately about how disintegrated waterborne trash is one of the main sources of ocean microplastics pollution. A new study, however, suggests that aging maritime rope could also be making a significant contribution.

Ocean microplastics are tiny particles or fibers of plastic that are suspended in the water, where they get consumed by fish. When those fish are eaten by humans or other animals, the microplastics get passed along into their bodies, potentially causing health problems.

Previous studies have determined that a great deal of microplastics come from plastic packaging and other garbage, which gradually deteriorates after being dumped in or washed into the sea. Other sources include synthetic textile fibers that enter the wastewater stream from washing machines, and even particles of automobile tire rubber that get washed off the roads and down into storm sewers.

All of that being said, scientists from Britain's University of Plymouth wondered if the polymer ropes used for hauling in fishing nets might also be to blame.

In both lab-based simulations and field experiments, it was initially determined that one-year-old ropes release about 20 microplastic fragments into the ocean for every meter (3.3 ft) hauled. That figure rose to 720 fragments per meter for two-year-old ropes, and over 760 for 10-year-old ropes.

With those figures in mind, it was estimated that a 50-m (164-ft) length of new rope likely releases between 700 and 2,000 microplastic fragments each time it's hauled in. For older ropes, the number could be as high as 40,000 fragments. It was further estimated that the UK fishing fleet – which includes over 4,500 vessels – may be releasing anywhere from 326 million to 17 billion rope microplastic fragments annually.

"These estimates were calculated after hauling a 2.5-kg [5.5-lb] weight," says the lead scientist, Dr. Imogen Napper. "However, most maritime activities would be hauling much heavier loads, creating more friction and potentially more fragments. It highlights the pressing need for standards on rope maintenance, replacement and recycling in the maritime industry. However, it also shows the importance of continued innovation in synthetic rope design with the specific aim to reduce microplastic emissions."

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Source: University of Plymouth

Interesting. This is consistent with the fact that reports of plastic pollution large enough to be visible predominantly comes from ships: fishing nets, floats, and items from container ships that lost part of their load in rough seas. Western countries banned waste dumping into waterways and the oceans decades ago.
Perhaps the rope industry should consider making their ropes out of denser materials, so when the inevitable erosion occurs, the particles sink to the sea bottom, becoming the next layer of sedimentary rocks.
Louis Vaughn
Good O'le Hemp.
Remember the passé phrase 'Smoke Rope'?
If not, it was before your time.
I think I have heard of certain bacteria that have an affinity for plastics. Would it be feasible to seed the ocean with these microbes to help alleviate the issue of micro plastics. We use microbes to bio-remediate gas station soil contaminated with gasoline. Surely we can push along the process of plastic eating "bugs".
When I was growing up rope and nets were made from plant fibers and were bio degradable, beverages, both alcoholic and non alcoholic were in glass or metal containers that had deposits on them. We did not have massive pollution of our environment outside of Big Businesses, things were made to last and be easily repaired. But in today's world of throw away planned obsolescence and environmentalists seeking to affix blame for the fouled up polluted world; when in reality all they have to do is look themselves in the face in a mirror. The very same people who seek to cast blame are the very same people who enabled the throw away crowd by buying the throw away products for convenience sake, They are accessories before, during and after the fact for the crime of polluting the planet and killing the future generations.
A huge amount of plastic waste along our coastlines is plastic from fishing boats. Broken fish bins, nets, rope, packaging. As AKSDAD has said, it’s not the middle class westerners throwing plastic lunch bags into the water that is the problem. I’ve taken part in multiple coastal cleanups where we pick up every scrap of plastic possible and the plastic that is demonised by our media just isn’t there along the coast.