NYK Starts World's First Large-Scale Survey of Ocean Microplastics


Published Mar 22, 2020 8:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Japanese shipping company NYK has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chiba Institute of Technology to use its ships to collect and analyze 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, says NYK.

According to the World Economic Forum, as much as eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. If this 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, i.e., tiny plastic particles up to five millimeters 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 thus be using its oceangoing fleet to study the condition of the world’s oceans on a large-scale in an effort to resolve the issue. The company will collect microplastics during voyages by making use of its fleet of approximately 750 vessels in operation. 

The Chiba Institute of Technology will analyze the samples and create a world plastic waste map that shows the size, distribution concentration, age, etc. of microplastics.

NYK began trials using three dry bulk carriers in March. 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, meteorological data, etc.

NYK is considering the commercialization of solutions such as a microplastic waste collection vessel with autonomous navigation technology using IoT.