Plastic debris in the global ocean is considered an important issue with severe implications for human health and marine ecosystems. Here, we exploited high-resolution multispectral satellite observations over the Bay Islands and Gulf of Honduras, for the period 2014-2019, to investigate the capability of satellite sensors in detecting marine plastic debris. We verified findings with in situ data, recorded the spectral characteristics of floating plastic litter, and identified plastic debris trajectories and sources. The results showed that plastic debris originating from Guatemala’s and Honduras’ rivers (such as Motagua, Ulua, Cangrejal, Tinto and Aguan) ends up in the Caribbean Sea, mainly during the period of August to March, which includes the main rainfall season. The detected spatial trajectories indicated that floating plastic debris travels with an average speed of 6 km d−1
, following primarily a southwest (SW) to northeast (NE) direction, driven by the prevailing sea surface currents. Based on several satellite observations, there is no indication of a specific accumulation point, since plastic debris is dispersed by the dynamic circulation in the broader region. Our findings provide evidence that satellite remote sensing is a valuable, cost-effective tool for monitoring the sources and pathways of plastic debris in marine ecosystems, and thus could eventually support management strategies in the global ocean.
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