The image below, is the waterline of X-Pat berthed in a marina in Queensland. The white pieces that you can see are not marine life, but pieces of polystyrene captured in the surface tension against to hull. There are over two hundred boats in this marina and they all have polystyrene sticking to them. So where did it come from?
,Well the answer is I don't know but I do have a few ideas. Polystyrene is an attractive material in the marine environment. It is light, it floats, it has great insulating properties and it's cheap. Not surprisingly then it has lots of applications.
Below is a picture taken at a fish market in China. These polystyrene boxes are used to keep fish cool and fresh. They are boxed offshore and brought ashore like this. But the boxes have one downside. They are fragile. If they get knocked, pieces break off until eventually the integrity of the box is lost and the whole thing falls apart creating thousands of particles that are almost impossible to clean up.
But these boxes are not just used in China. If you go and charter a yacht on the beautiful Great Barrier Reef and ask for the boat to be provisioned, your provisions will be supplied in these boxes. That must be introducing unnecessary risk of pollution into our marine environment.
The image below shows polystyrene fishing buoys which we commonly find on our voyages. They are often in a poor state and with continued use, simply disintegrate in the ocean. There are plenty of robust alternatives around and so why do we need to use these?
There is a growing move to ban the use of polystyrene in many areas, particularly the food trade where indications are that styrene can transfer into food and drink at temperatures greater than 70C, creating a human health risk. The use of these materials should also be banned in marine applications as an additional step towards limiting plastic pollution in our oceans.