Charles Moore has become a leading figure in the plastic marine pollution debate.
His initial research - which found six times as much plastic as plankton, by weight, in parts of the Pacific Ocean - jump-started the debate about marine litter and polymers, and his work has been featured in media outlets from U.S. News and World Report to National Public Radio.
Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif., spoke at the Redondo Beach plastic debris conference. He said there is no question that the volume of plastic in the waters harms marine life, killing 100,000 animals a year.
The animals strangle in soda bottle rings or, in the case of birds, eat tiny bits of plastic and die because they think they are full.
Now, Moore, an avid sailor and college chemistry major, is turning his attention to other questions, such as what happens when microorganisms consume microscopic plastic particles in the ocean, and new research that shows that plastics in the water absorb and concentrate toxins such as PCB.
Researchers from the University of Tokyo have found polyethylene and polypropylene pellets in the ocean that have absorbed toxins, but Moore said it is not clear what effect, if any, that might have on animals and whether pollutants can be transferred up the food chain.
One interesting clue: He said very tiny marine invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain have been observed eating plastic pellets, and an earlier study found that where there is a concentration of plastic in marine birds, there is also a concentration of PCB in the birds.