Rapid increase in Asian bottles in the South Atlantic Ocean indicates major debris inputs from ships
Most plastic debris floating at sea is thought to come from land-based sources, but there is little direct evidence to support this assumption. Since 1984, stranded debris has been recorded along the west coast of Inaccessible Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the central South Atlantic Ocean that has a very high macrodebris load (∼5 kg·m−1). Plastic drink bottles show the fastest growth rate, increasing at 15% per year compared with 7% per year for other debris types. In 2018, we examined 2,580 plastic bottles and other containers (one-third of all debris items) that had accumulated on the coast, and a further 174 bottles that washed ashore during regular monitoring over the course of 72 d (equivalent to 800 bottles·km−1·y−1). The oldest container was a high-density polyethylene canister made in 1971, but most were polyethylene terephthalate drink bottles of recent manufacture. Of the bottles that washed up during our survey, 90% were date-stamped within 2 y of stranding. In the 1980s, two-thirds of bottles derived from South America, carried 3,000 km by the west wind drift. By 2009, Asia had surpassed South America as the major source of bottles, and by 2018, Asian bottles comprised 73% of accumulated and 83% of newly arrived bottles, with most made in China. The rapid growth in Asian debris, mainly from China, coupled with the recent manufacture of these items, indicates that ships are responsible for most of the bottles floating in the central South Atlantic Ocean, in contravention of International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships regulations.