August 2022, article in peer-reviewed journal
Scientific Reports

Matthias Egger, Britte Schilt, Helen Wolter, Thomas Mani, Robin de Vries, Erik Zettler and Helge Niemann

  • Publication type: Article in peer-reviewed article
  • Publication journal: Scientific Reports
  • Collaborators: The Ocean Cleanup (NL), Egger Research and Consulting (CH), Department of Earth Sciences–Geochemistry, Utrecht University (NL), NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NL)
  • DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-17742-7
  • Publication date: August 11, 2022


At present, the distribution of plastic debris in the ocean water column remains largely unknown. Such information, however, is required to assess the exposure of marine organisms to plastic pollution as well as to calculate the ocean plastic mass balance. Here, we provide water column profiles (0–300 m water depth) of plastic (0.05–5 cm in size) concentration and key planktonic species from the eastern North Atlantic Ocean. The amount of plastic decreases rapidly in the upper few meters, from ~ 1 item/m3 (~ 1000 µg/m3) at the sea surface to values of ~ 0.001–0.01 items/m3 (~ 0.1–10 µg/m3) at 300 m depth. Ratios of plastic to plankton varied between ~ 10–5 and 1 plastic particles per individual with highest ratios typically found in the surface waters. We further observed that pelagic ratios were generally higher in the water column below the subtropical gyre compared to those in more coastal ecosystems. Lastly, we show plastic to (non-gelatinous) plankton ratios could be as high as ~ 102–107 plastic particles per individual when considering reported concentrations of small microplastics 

  • Environmental impact, Microplastics, North Atlantic Gyre