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NYK starts world’s first large-scale survey of microplastics in oceans

Japan’s Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chiba Institute of Technology (CIT) to use a ship to collect and analyse microplastics in oceans around the world. This is the world’s first initiative between a company and a research institute to conduct a survey of microplastics over a wide range of the ocean.

According to the World Economic Forum, as much as 8m tonnes of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and if this situation continues, it is predicted that the total weight of marine plastic waste will exceed the total number of marine organisms by 2050.

Plastics are often not very biodegradable and can persist in the ocean for a hundred years or more. When exposed to UV radiation and waves, plastics can break down into microplastics, tiny plastic particles up to 5 mm in diameter. The microplastics then sit on the sea surface or the seabed. There is concern that the microplastics can be ingested by a wide range of creatures, beginning with plankton that form the basis of the marine food chain, thus endangering humans too.

However, the location, size, and type of microplastics in the world’s oceans, remain unclear, in addition to how much they are increasing each year.

NYK will collect microplastics during voyages by making use of its fleet of approximately 750 vessels in operation. CIT will use its cutting-edge research on microplastics to analyse the samples and create a world plastic waste map that shows the size, distribution, concentration and age of microplastics.

NYK and CIT began trials using three dry bulk carriers this month. Based on the results, the types of vessels will be expanded, and the survey area widened. After establishing a method of sampling, a worldwide microplastic map will be created by collecting big data of microplastics linked to sampling information such as date and time, location and meteorological data.

NYK also revealed today it is considering the commercialisation of solutions such as a microplastic waste collection vessel with autonomous navigation technology using IoT.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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