Every year, the sum of humanity’s knowledge increases exponentially. And as we learn more, we also learn there is much we still don’t know. Plastic litter in our oceans is one area where we need to learn more, and we need to learn it quickly but we already know enough to take action. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. As the Marine Litter Vital Graphics report explains, we need to act now if we want to avoid living in a sea of plastic by mid-century – even if we don’t know everything about what it’s doing to the health of people or the environment.
The presence of microplastics in the marine environment poses a great threat to the entire ecosystem and has received much attention lately as the presence has greatly impacted oceans, lakes, seas, rivers, coastal areas and even the Polar Regions. Microplastics are found in most commonly utilized products (primary microplastics), or may originate from the fragmentation of larger plastic debris (secondary microplastics). The material enters the marine environment through terrestrial and land-based activities, especially via runoffs and is known to have great impact on marine organisms as studies have shown that large numbers of marine organisms have been affected by microplastics. Microplastic particles have been found distributed in large numbers in Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, India, South Africa, North America, and in Europe. This review describes the sources and global distribution of microplastics in the environment, the fate and impact on marine biota, especially the food chain. Furthermore, the control measures discussed are those mapped out by both national and international environmental organizations for combating the impact from microplastics. Identifying the main sources of microplastic pollution in the environment and creating awareness through education at the public, private, and government sectors will go a long way in reducing the entry of microplastics into the environment. Also, knowing the associated behavioral mechanisms will enable better understanding of the impacts for the marine environment. However, a more promising and environmentally safe approach could be provided by exploiting the potentials of microorganisms, especially those of marine origin that can degrade microplastics.
In just over half a century plastic products have revolutionized human society and have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments in every corner of the globe. The hazard plastic debris poses to biodiversity is well established, but mitigation and planning are often hampered by a lack of quantitative data on accumulation patterns. Here we document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world, up to 671.6 items/m2 (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Approximately 68% of debris (up to 4,496.9 pieces/m2) on the beach was buried <10 cm in the sediment. An estimated 37.7 million debris items weighing a total of 17.6 tons are currently present on Henderson, with up to 26.8 new items/m accumulating daily. Rarely visited by humans, Henderson Island and other remote islands may be sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste.
Marine litter from lightweight plastic bags is a global problem that must be solved. A plastic bag tax was implemented in February 2015 to reduce the consumption of plastic grocery bags in Portugal and in turn reduce the potential contribution to marine litter. This study analyzes the effect of the plastic bag tax on consumer behavior to learn how it was received and determine the perceived effectiveness of the tax 4 months after its implementation. In addition, the study assessed how proximity to coastal areas could influence behaviors and opinions. The results showed a 74% reduction of plastic bag consumption with a simultaneously 61% increase of reusable plastic bags after the tax was implemented. Because plastic bags were then reused for shopping instead of garbage bags, however, the consumption of garbage bags increased by 12%. Although reduction was achieved, the tax had no effect on the perception of marine litter or the impact of plastic bags on environment and health. The majority of respondents agree with the tax but view it as an extra revenue to the State. The distance to the coast had no meaningful influence on consumer behavior or on the perception of the tax. Although the tax was able to promote the reduction of plastics, the role of hypermarkets and supermarkets in providing alternatives through the distribution of reusable plastic bags was determinant to ensuring the reduction.
Seabirds are amongst the most affected organisms by plastic pollution worldwide. Ingestion of marine debris has been reported in at least 122 species, and owing to the increasing global production and persistence of these anthropogenic materials within the marine environment, it is expected to be a growing problem to the marine fauna. Here we report evidence of an increasing frequency in marine debris ingestion and a decrease in the amount of plastic pellets ingested by White-chinned Petrels attending south Brazilian waters during the last three decades. Future studies comprising large temporal scales and large sample sizes are needed to better understand the trends of marine debris ingestion by seabirds. We expect our findings to highlight the need for prevention policies and mitigation measures to reduce the amount of solid litter in the oceans.
Among the many threats that can be recorded on sandy beaches, plastic litter represents a serious problem for these complex and endangered ecosystems. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is increasingly abundant as a form of plastic litter in natural environments, particularly along shores and waterways. Nevertheless, despite the great number of scientific articles concerning the impact of litter on animal species, there are still no research focusing on the interaction between this type of beach litter and other biodiversity components. In this work, we reported the first evidence of interactions between EPS and living plants along a sandy beach of Tyrrhenian central Italy. We sampled 540 EPS items, mainly deriving from fishery activities (>75%). We obtained evidence for an interaction between EPS and plants: about 5% of items resulted perforated or have roots of three species (Phragmites australis, Spartina versicolor, Anthemis maritima). Apparently, we did not observed a relationship between plants and EPS items size. More research is needed to assess if the plant assemblage growing on EPS is random or if peculiar substrate exerts some sort of selection on the plant community.
Light-sticks are used as bait in surface long-line fishing, to capture swordfish and other large pelagic predators. When discharged in the ocean, it may reach the beaches. The traditional Brazilian community of Costa dos Coqueiros, Bahia, use light-sticks as a medicine for rheumatism, vitiligo and mycoses. It may affect the marine life when its content leak in the open ocean. This work evaluated and identified the acute and chronic toxicity of the light-stick. A high acute toxicity was observed in the mobility/mortality of Artemia sp.; in the fertilization of sea urchin eggs, and a high chronic toxicity in the development of the pluteus larvae of the same sea urchin. The main compounds that probably caused toxicity were the volatiles such as the fluorescent PAH and oxidants such as the hydrogen peroxide. Its disposal in the open ocean is a potential threat for marine life.
Marine debris (MDs) produces a wide variety of negative environmental, economic, safety, health and cultural impacts. Most marine litter has a very low decomposition rate (plastics), leading to a gradual accumulation in the coastal and marine environment. Characterization of the MDs has been done in terms of their pollutant content: PAHs, ClBzs, ClPhs, BrPhs, PCDD/Fs and PCBs. The results show that MDs is not a very contaminated waste. Also, thermal decomposition of MDs materials has been studied in a thermobalance at different atmospheres and heating rates. Below 400–500 K, the atmosphere does not affect the thermal degradation of the mentioned waste. However, at temperatures between 500 and 800 K the presence of oxygen accelerates the decomposition. Also, a kinetic model is proposed for the combustion of the MDs, and the decomposition is compared with that of their main constituents, i.e., polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), nylon and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET).
Microplastics (MPs) represent a matter of growing concern for the marine environment. Their ingestion has been documented in several species worldwide, but the impact of specific anthropogenic activities remains largely unexplored. In this study, MPs were characterized in different benthic fish sampled after 2.5 years of huge engineering operations for the parbuckling project on the Costa Concordia wreck at Giglio Island. Fish collected in proximity of the wreck showed a high ingestion of microplastics compared to both fish from a control area and values reported worldwide. Also the elevated percentage of nylon, polypropylene lines and the presence of polystyrene are quite unusual for marine organisms sampled in natural field conditions, thus supporting the possible relationship of ingested microplastics with maritime operations during wreck removal. On the other hand, the use of transplanted mussels revealed a lower frequency of ingested MPs, and did not discriminate differences between the wreck and the control area. Some variations were observed in terms of typology and size of particles between surface- and bottom-caged mussels highlighting the influence of a different distribution of MPs along the water column. In conclusion, this study demonstrated that MPs pollution in the area of Costa Concordia was more evident on benthonic environment than on seawater column, providing novel insights on the possibility of using appropriate sentinel organisms for monitoring specific anthropogenic sources of MPs pollution in the marine environment.
Small-scale pollution events involve the release of potentially harmful substances into the marine environment. These events can affect all levels of the ecosystem, with damage to both fauna and flora. Numerous reporting structures are currently available to document spills, however there is a lack of information on small-scale events due to their magnitude and patchy distribution. To this end, volunteers may provide a useful tool in filling this data gap, especially for coastal environments with a high usage by members of the public. The potential for citizen scientists to record small-scale pollution events is explored using the UK as an example, with a focus on highlighting methods and issues associated with using this data source. An integrated monitoring system is proposed which combines citizen science and traditional reporting approaches.
Environmental pollution caused by inert anthropogenic stressors such as microplastics in aquatic media is constantly increasing. Through the proliferating use of plastic products in daily life, more and more plastic particles enter waters as primary microplastics. Even though large scale plastic items such as plastic bottles and bags represent the highest percentage of plastic waste, their degeneration also generates microparticles and nanoparticles (secondary microplastics). Modern sewage treatment plants require innovative ideas in order to deal with this man-made problem. State-of-the-art technology offers approaches to minimise the amount of microplastics in aquatic systems. These technologies, however, are either insufficient or very costly, as well as time-consuming in both cases. The conceptual idea presented here is to apply innovative inorganic-organic hybrid silica gels which provide a cost-effective and straightforward approach. Currently, the synthesis of preorganised bioinspired compounds is advancing in order to produce functionalised hybrid silica gels in a further step. These gels have the ability to remove stressors such as microplastics from waste water. By means of the sol-gel process, bioinspired silane compounds are currently being permuted to macromolecules and examined with respect to their properties as fixation and filter material in order to remove the hydrophobic anthropogenic stressors sustainably. Here, the reproduction of biological systems plays a significant role. In particular in material sciences, this approach is becoming increasingly important. Among other concepts, new biomimetic molecules form the basis for the investigation of innovative host-guest relationships for anthropogenic stressors in the environment and their implementation in technical processes.
Marine debris is one of the most significant issues facing oceans worldwide. The sources of this debris vary depending on proximity to urban centres and the nature of activities within an area. This paper examines the influence of tourism in the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and its contribution to litter levels in the region. By conducting beach debris surveys on occupied and unoccupied islands, this study found that debris was prevalent throughout the region with significant differences in material types between locations. The greatest source of debris from publically accessible islands was tourist-related, with this source also influencing debris loads on nearby uninhabited islands. A focus on debris at Heron Island, showed that sites close to amenities had greater levels of tourist-sourced items like cigarette butts. These findings indicate the contribution of tourists to this problem and that working with operators and managers is needed to minimise visitor impacts.
Our aim was to quantify microplastic ingestion by fish assemblages in two tropical Brazilian estuaries and to evaluate whether biological and ecological factors influence the ingestion of microplastics by fish species. Of 2233 fish from both estuaries (from 69 species) examined in this study, 9% of the individuals (24 species) had microplastics in their gut contents. Microplastic ingestion occurred irrespective of fish size and functional group. The diet of fish species was analyzed based on prey items identified in the fish's full stomach contents and five feeding guilds were defined. Microplastics were common throughout all feeding guilds. Low (average ingestion values 1.06 ± 0.30 items/total fish) but widespread occurrence among estuaries also indicates proliferation of microplastic pollution. Our findings highlight the need to focus on assemblage level studies to understand the real magnitude of the problem and emphasize the urgency of mitigation measures directed at microplastic pollution in estuarine ecosystems.
Filamentous plastic litter collected from two beaches in south west England has been characterized by FTIR and XRF. The majority of samples were constructed of polyethylene and consisted of twisted or braided strands of a variety of colours that appeared to be derived from commercial fishing nets. A number of different elements were detected among the samples but, from an environmental perspective, the regular occurrence of Cr and Pb and the occasional or isolated occurrence of Br, Cd and Se were of greatest concern. The highest total concentrations of Br (2420 μg g−1), Cd (1460 μg g−1), Cr (909 μg g−1), Pb (3770 μg g−1) and Se (240 μg g−1) were always encountered among orange samples and are attributed to the presence of lead chromates and cadmium sulphoselenide as colourants and to brominated compounds as flame retardants. Element bioaccessibility was evaluated by ICP-MS following an acidic extraction test that mimics the digestive tract of seabirds, with maximum values after a seven-day incubation period and relative to respective total concentrations of 0.2–0.4% for Cd, Cr and Pb and about 7% for Br. In addition to the well-documented impacts on wildlife through entrapment, filamentous plastic waste may act as a significant source of hazardous chemicals into the marine foodchain through ingestion.
Baltic amber, adored for its beauty already in Homer's Odyssey (ca. 800 B.C.E), has its material density close to that of wide-spread plastics like polyamide, polystyrene, or acrylic. Migrations of amber stones in the sea and their massive washing ashore have been monitored by Baltic citizens for ages. Based on the collected information, we present the hypothesis on the behaviour of microplastic particles in sea coastal zone. Fresh-to-strong winds generate surface waves, currents and roll-structures, whose joint effect washes ashore from the underwater slope both amber stones and plastics – and carries them back to the sea in a few days. Analysis of underlying hydrophysical processes suggests that sea coastal zone under stormy winds plays a role of a mill for plastics, and negatively buoyant pieces seem to repeatedly migrate between beaches and underwater slopes until they are broken into small enough fragments that can be transported by currents to deeper areas and deposited out of reach of stormy waves. Direct observations on microplastics migrations are urged to prove the hypothesis.
Plastic pollution and its environmental effects has received global attention the recent years. However, limited attention has so far been directed towards how plastics are regulated in a life cycle perspective and how regulatory gaps can be addressed in order to limit and prevent environmental exposure and hazards of macro- and microplastics. In this paper, we map European regulation taking outset in the life cycle perspective of plastic carrier bags: from plastic bag production to when it enters the environment. Relevant regulatory frameworks, directives and authorities along the life cycle are identified and their role in regulation of plastics is discussed. Most important regulations were identified as: the EU chemical Regulation, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive including the amending Directive regarding regulation of the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, the Waste Framework Directive and the Directive on the Landfill of Waste. The main gaps identified relate to lack of clear definitions of categories of polymers, unambitious recycling rates and lack of consideration of macro- and microplastics in key pieces of legislation. We recommend that polymers are categorized according to whether they are polymers with the same monomer constituents (homopolymers) or with different monomer constituents (copolymers) and that polymers are no longer exempt from registration and evaluation under REACH. Plastics should furthermore have the same high level of monitoring and reporting requirements as hazardous waste involving stricter requirements to labelling, recordkeeping, monitoring and control over the whole lifecycle. Finally, we recommend that more ambitious recycle and recovery targets are set across the EU. Regulation of the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags should also apply to heavyweight plastic carrier bags. Last, the Marine and Water Framework Directives should specifically address plastic waste affecting water quality.
For almost 50 years scientists have been drawing attention to marine plastics, working to increase what we know about their incidence and impacts. However, how we come to know things is just as important as what we know. How do oceanic plastics become understood and how does this influence what we decide to do about them? Drawing upon discard studies and cultural geographies, this paper details processes of understanding and problematising marine debris by considering the practices of: an activist working with Indigenous communities to track and manage discarded fishing gear, a scientist investigating the influence of plastics in the lives of sea turtles, and Indigenous artists using oceanic debris as their material. Rather than categorising these knowledge as either lay or scientific, creating a sense of opposition, the concept of traces – material, immaterial, methodological – is employed to foreground the contingency and multiplicity involved. In this way, insight is gained about the materials, embodiments, affects and techniques involved in producing knowledge about oceanic plastics, as well as about how responses to this detritus become articulated and shared with wider publics.
Microplastics (<5 mm) are contaminants of emerging global concern. They have received considerable attention in scientific research, resulting in an increased awareness of the issue among politicians and the general public. However, there has been significant variation in sampling and extraction procedures used to quantify microplastics levels. The difference in extraction procedures can especially impact study outcomes, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to directly compare results among studies. To address this, we recently developed a standard operating procedure (SOP) for sampling microplastics on beaches. We are now assessing regional and global variations in beach microplastics using this standardized approach for 2 research projects. Our first project involves the general public through citizen science. Participants collect sand samples from beaches using a basic protocol, and we subsequently extract and quantify microplastics in a central laboratory using the SOP. Presently, we have 80+ samples from around the world and expect this number to further increase. Second, we are conducting 2, in-depth, regional case studies: one along the Dutch coast (close to major rivers, a known source of microplastic input into marine systems), and the other on the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean (in the proximity to a hotspot of plastics in the North Atlantic Ocean). In both projects, we use our new SOP to determine regional variation in microplastics, including differences in physicochemical characteristics such as size, shape, and polymer type. Our research will provide, for the first time, a systematic comparison on levels of microplastics on beaches at both a regional and global scale.
Anthropogenic particles (APs), including microplastics, are ingested by a wide variety of marine organisms. Exposure of Clupeiformes (e.g. herrings, anchovies, sardines) is poorly studied despite their economic and ecological importance. This study aims to describe the morphology of the filtration apparatus of three wild-caught Clupeiformes (Sardina pilchardus, Clupea harengus and Engraulis encrasicolus) and to relate the results to ingested APs. Consequently, the species with the more efficient filtration apparatus will be more likely to ingest APs. We hypothesized that sardines were the most exposed species. The filtration area and particle retention threshold were determined in the three species, with sardines displaying the highest filtration area and the closest gill rakers. Sardines ingested more fibers and smaller fragments, confirming that it is the most efficient filtering species. These two results lead to the conclusion that, among the three studied, the sardine is the species most exposed to APs.
Plastic debris has become a major pollutant in the world's oceans and is found in many seabird species from low to high latitudes. Here we compare levels of plastic ingestion from two surface feeders, northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) and black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), and two pursuit diving species, thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) and black guillemots (Cepphus grylle) in the Canadian high Arctic. This is the first report quantifying plastic ingestion in kittiwakes in this region, and as predicted, kittiwakes and fulmars had higher frequency of plastic ingestion than guillemots and murres. Despite this, amounts of plastic ingested by birds remain lower than regions farther south.