Message in a bottle tracks plastic pollution

Electronic tags released in the Ganges river show plastic pollution can travel thousands of kilometres in just a few months. The message-in-a-bottle tags could be used for raising awareness about plastic pollution.

Researchers put GPS and satellite tags in plastic bottles in the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, tracking amaximum distance of 2,845km in 94 days.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter and ZSL (the Zoological Society of London), was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s Sea to Source: Ganges expedition, writes a statement.

“Our ‘message in a bottle’ tags show how far and how fast plastic pollution can move,” said lead author Dr Emily Duncan. “It demonstrates that this is a truly global issue, as a piece of plastic dropped in a river or ocean could soon wash up on the other side of the world.”

The study used 25 500ml bottles with size, shape and buoyancy intended to mimic the movement of any plastic bottle. Bottles at sea covered far greater distances, following coastal currents at first but then dispersing more widely.

The researchers hope the bottle tags could be a “powerful tool” for education, raising awareness and encouraging behaviour change, says the statement.

Dr Duncan said: “This could be used to teach about plastic pollution in schools, with children able to see where their bottle goes. Data from these tags could feed into global models to give us a clearer picture of how plastic moves across the ocean and where it ends up.

Image credit: Kevin Krejci via Flickr


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