The Unholy Spawn of Oil Spills and Microplastics

On the East coast of Tenerife, the biggest of the Canary Islands, stretches Playa Grande, with its clear waters and fine sand. Clamber up one of its outcrops, though, and you may notice something amiss: Much of this rock is darker, squishier, and hotter than the rest, and dotted with colorful sprinkles. Sounds cheerful, yes, but it’s actually a diabolical new kind of pollution.

The scientists who just discovered the horror are calling it “plastitar.” It’s tar from oil spills mixed with the multicolored microplastics that are spewing totally unchecked into the world’s oceans. (Microplastics are bits of plastic waste less than 5 millimeters long.)…

It’s important to note that Hernández-Borges and his colleagues were looking for particles as small as 1 millimeter, which means many, many smaller bits evaded detection. As microplastics science has progressed, researchers have started to test for nanoplastics—particles smaller than a millionth of a meter. A load of laundry can release trillions of these nanoplastics into the sea.

A portrait of things to come…globally? Of course.

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