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Ocean groups send ‘Message in a Bottle’ to G7 leaders, advance marine plastic research

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On World Ocean Day, June 8, a collaboration of scientific institutions and ocean groups from around the world launched scientific monitoring devices into the Atlantic Ocean at the G7 summit in Cornwall, UK.

Designed to mimic a single-use plastic drink bottle that responds to currents and winds as real bottles do, researchers believe the devices may increase understanding about how plastic pollution behaves in the ocean, sending real-time data back to ocean observing systems via satellite five to six times every 24-hour period for two years.

A map showing the locations of the bottles is live on the #OneLess website. Bottles were launched for each G7 nation, including Canada.

The tracking devices will be deployed in transects from zero, five and 10 nautical miles offshore, and from three locations in Cornwall, each location selected to pick up different current regimes that, first of all, control whether plastic escapes the coastal environment and, further out to sea, where it may eventually come to rest.

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Professor Heather Koldewey of the Zoological Society of London and the University of Exeter is a lead scientist on the project and director of the #OneLess campaign.

“The small stretch of sea around Cornwall connects to a vast ocean without boundaries. By combining novel technology and ocean observing systems, we will obtain new insights into how marine litter behaves,” Koldewey announced in a statement.

Many of the ocean groups involved in the project see it as a political statement as well as an experiment. Some called it a “Message in a Bottle” for G7 leaders and hope it acts as a way to highlight the importance of research and the role of pollution in the ocean, as well as its impact on ocean resilience to warming.

“G7 Leaders need to listen to the ocean and take immediate action to significantly increase protection for it and awareness about its role in making life on our planet possible,” announced director of the OneOcean campaign, Mirella von Lindenfels.

In addition to the bottle tracking project, the University of Exeter was also involved in the publishing of a new marine plastic pollution research paper earlier this month. Exeter researchers led a survey of more than 15,000 people across 14 European countries, plus Australia, to gauge how concerned people were about the potential human health impact of marine plastic pollution.

The results of the survey found that marine plastic pollution impact ranked as the top concern among 16 marine-related threats such as chemical or oil spills, marine biodiversity loss, and climate change related effects such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

“Plastic pollution is one of the fastest-growing environmental challenges on our planet. Yet, while the damage to marine life is well understood, the impact on human health remains unclear,” announced lead author Sophie Davison of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health. “Our study indicates that this is of grave concern to the public, and that there’s widespread support for more research in this area.”

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