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Pacific News Minute: Researchers find microplastics throughout Palau

Plastic debris is washed up at Depoe Bay, Ore., on Jan. 19, 2020.
Andrew Selsky
FILE - Plastic debris is washed up at Depoe Bay, Ore., on Jan. 19, 2020.

A new study found that plastic waste has polluted Palau’s islands, reefs and beaches.

Researchers from the Palau International Coral Reef Center and the Monaco Scientific Center went on a recent search for ocean plastic.

The Palau Archipelago consists of more than 300 islands in the northwestern Pacific, many of which are uninhabited. Scientists chose it as a site for the experiment because its reefs are considered pristine.

The researchers sampled seawater, sediments and beach sand throughout Palau’s islands for tiny plastic particles.

Significant amounts of plastic were detected in every sample.

The study showed the lowest concentration of microplastics in the northeastern islands of Palau. Ocean currents flow away from the coast in these areas and may carry plastic pollution out to sea.

The southeastern islands were found to have higher concentrations of microplastic on their beaches. This may be because plastic collects on the outer reef at low tide and washes into the beach at high tide.

The study was published in the journal Plos One, and noted that more than 92% of the plastic waste found in the ocean is microplastic. That’s smaller than 5 millimeters.

They say the particles can harm the respiration and immune systems of marine life. And once plastic is inside corals, it can impair their growth and lead to coral bleaching.

“There is likely nowhere left in the world that has not been contaminated by plastic pollution to some degree," Palau scientist Ikelau Otto told the Pacific Island Times.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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