Plasticrust: A new form of pollution found on rocks along coastlines


Fragments seen in the rocks are mostly made of polyethylene, a family of plastic used for the manufacture of many everyday objects. — AFP

You're on a beach, contemplating the rocks along the coastline. No seaweed or periwinkle moss can be seen on the sea bluffs, but there is a strange blue-tinted layer, which doesn’t resemble any living species. And for good reason: it is in fact plastic fragments rejected by the oceans, then embedded in the rocks. The word “plasticrust” refers to a new form of pollution, first identified in 2016 by Portuguese biologists. We take a closer look at the term and the phenomenon.

This upsetting discovery was made in 2016 by Portuguese scientists from Lisbon’s Center for Environmental and Marine Sciences (MARE), during an expedition to the island of Madeira, located southwest of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. Upon their return to the capital, the researchers decided to investigate these fragments more closely. They returned to the island of Madeira several times between 2017 and 2019 and observed that this new form of pollution was widespread.

In June 2019, the team of researchers published a study entitled “Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene’s rocky shores.” Based on their research work, they calculated that these plastic crusts covered 9.46% of the rocky surface of the island of Madeira.

A combination of pictures showing ‘plasticrust’, which was identified in 2016. — AFPA combination of pictures showing ‘plasticrust’, which was identified in 2016. — AFP

Soon after the publication of this study, the term plasticrust began to spread at a viral rate in the media. The word may make some people laugh because of the way it sounds. But the existence of the phenomenon to which it refers is not at all amusing. Because if plasticrust has been spotted on the island of Madeira, it is probably not the only place in the world where it can be observed.

Through their analysis, they found that the fragments seen in the rocks were mostly made of polyethylene, a family of plastic used for the manufacture of many everyday objects (packaging, bags, bottles, etc). “We are convinced this is not a case exclusive of Madeira, and most likely this new phenomenon will be reported in other global regions, ” the scientists at the origin of the discovery said, according to CNN.

And indeed a publication out of Germany last year indicated that plasticrusts were detected on the Italian island of Giglio alongside another type of new plastic debris, pyroplastics, formed from burnt plastic waste.

As it’s been estimated that more than 310 million tons of plastic are produced in the world each year and that up to 12 million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans every year, it’s not surprising that the term plasticrust has made its mark. – AFP Relaxnews

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