NYK starts world’s first large-scale survey of microplastics in oceans

POLLUTION RECOVERY WEEK
An NYK bulk carrier (Photo: NYK)

Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Chiba Institute of Technology (CIT) to use a ship to collect and analyse microplastics in oceans around the world in an effort to create a solution to marine plastic pollution, a global environmental issue.

This is the world’s first initiative between a private sector company and a research institute to conduct a survey of microplastics over a wide range of the ocean.

According to the World Economic Forum, as much as eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and if this situation continues, it is predicted that the total weight of marine plastic waste will exceed the total number of marine organisms by 2050.

Plastics are often not very biodegradable and can persist in the ocean for a hundred years or more. When exposed to UV radiation and waves, plastics can break down into microplastics, i.e., tiny plastic particles up to five millimetres in diameter.

The microplastics then sit on the sea surface or the seabed. There is concern that the microplastics can be ingested by a wide range of creatures, beginning with plankton that form the basis of the marine food chain, thus endangering humans as well.

NYK will collect microplastics during voyages by making use of its fleet of approximately 750 vessels in operation. CIT will then use its research on microplastics to analyse the samples and create a world plastic waste map that shows the size, distribution concentration, age, etc. of microplastics.

NYK and CIT have begun trials using three dry bulk carriers earlier this month. Based on the results, the types of vessels will be expanded, and the survey area widened.

After establishing a method of sampling, a worldwide microplastic map will be created by collecting big data of microplastics linked to sampling information such as date and time, location, meteorological data, etc.

NYK added that it will also begin developing solutions including a microplastic waste collection vessel with autonomous navigation technology.

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