So what is the scale of the problem and what can we all do to help keep our oceans clean?
Richard Thompson is professor of marine biology at the University of Plymouth, heading up the International Marine Litter Research Unit. He first coined the phrase ‘microplastics’ in 2004. Thompson is optimistic that we can gradually change the way we produce, use and dispose of plastic but he says there’s no quick fix: “We can’t manage without plastics because they bring too many societal benefits, so going plastic-free isn’t the answer.
“It’s complex but solvable. Ultimately, it’s about designing and using plastic differently. It’s crucial that we design plastic items with end-of-life in mind, especially single-use items that are used so fleetingly and yet make up 40 per cent of plastic produced.
“Single-use plastics is a key proportion of marine litter and therefore a great starting place to address the issue of ocean plastics,” says Thompson.