The coastal regions of inland seas are particularly vulnerable to Hg pollution. An important carrier of toxic Hg in the marine environment is suspended matter originating from multiple sources. The present study was conducted in the Gulf of Gdańsk and its adjoining land in the years 2011–2013. The results indicated that the HgSPM (Hg bound with suspended particulate matter) concentrations varied horizontally and vertically and were dependent on the water dynamics and the composition of organic matter. Conditions favourable for the accumulation of matter and adsorption of reactive gaseous mercury led to increasing HgSPM levels, which are especially hazardous in the case of semi-enclosed areas such as estuaries. These conditions also increase the Hg loads into the trophic chain through suspension feeders. Moreover, the HgSPM concentration was significantly affected by seasonal phenomena (mainly coastal erosion) and the quantity and quality of primary production (phytoplankton blooms, mainly Mesodinium rubrum).
Contamination by microplastic particles and fibres has been observed in sediment and animals sampled from the Firth of Clyde, West Scotland. In addition to microplastics released during clothes washing, a probable source is polymer ropes in abandoned, lost and discarded fishing and recreational sailing gear. The fragmentation of polypropylene, polyethylene, and nylon exposed to benthic conditions at 10 m depth over 12 months was monitored using changes in weight and tensile properties. Water temperature and light levels were continuously monitored. The degree of biofouling was measured using chlorophyll a, the weight of attached macroalgae, and colonising fauna. Results indicate microplastic fibres and particles may be formed in benthic environments despite reduced photodegradation. Polypropylene, Nylon, and polyethylene lost an average of 0.39%, 1.02%, and 0.45% of their mass per month respectively. Microscope images of the rope surface revealed notable surface roughening believed to be caused by abrasion by substrate and the action of fouling organisms.
Marine plastic pollution has been a growing concern for decades. Single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads) are a significant source of this pollution. Although research outlining environmental, social, and economic impacts of marine plastic pollution is growing, few studies have examined policy and legislative tools to reduce plastic pollution, particularly single-use plastics (plastic bags and microbeads). This paper reviews current international market-based strategies and policies to reduce plastic bags and microbeads. While policies to reduce microbeads began in 2014, interventions for plastic bags began much earlier in 1991. However, few studies have documented or measured the effectiveness of these reduction strategies. Recommendations to further reduce single-use plastic marine pollution include: (i) research to evaluate effectiveness of bans and levies to ensure policies are having positive impacts on marine environments; and (ii) education and outreach to reduce consumption of plastic bags and microbeads at source.
In the aquatic environment, Microplastic (MP; < 5 mm) is a cause of concern due to its persistence and potential adverse effects on biota. Studies on microlitter impacts are mostly based on virgin and spherical polymer particles as model MP. However, in pelagic and benthic environments, surfaces are always colonized by microorganisms forming so-called biofilms. The influence of such biofilms on the fate and potential effects of MP presents a current knowledge gap. Here, we review the physical interactions of early microbial colonization on plastic surfaces and their reciprocal influence on the weathering processes and vertical transport as well as sorption and release of contaminants by MP. Possible ecological consequences of biofilm formation on MP, such as trophic transfer of MP particles and potential adverse effects of MP, are virtually unknown. However, the evidence is accumulating that by modifying the physical properties of the particles, the biofilm-plastic interactions have the capacity to influence the fate and impacts MP may have. There is an urgent research need to better understand these interactions and increase ecological relevance of current laboratory testing by simulating field conditions where microbial life is a key driver of the biogeochemical processes.
Juvenile oceanic-stage sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to the increasing quantity of plastic coming into the oceans. In this study, we analysed the gastrointestinal tracts of 24 juvenile oceanic-stage loggerheads (Caretta caretta) collected off the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, in the Azores region, a key feeding ground for juvenile loggerheads. Twenty individuals were found to have ingested marine debris (83%), composed exclusively of plastic items (primarily polyethylene and polypropylene) identified by μ-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Large microplastics (1–5 mm) represented 25% of the total number of debris and were found in 58% of the individuals sampled. Average number of items was 15.83 ± 6.09 (± SE) per individual, corresponding to a mean dry mass of 1.07 ± 0.41 g. The results of this study demonstrate that plastic pollution acts as another stressor for this critical life stage of loggerhead turtles in the North Atlantic.
The United States Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into law in December 2015. It is a bipartisan agreement that will eliminate one preventable source of microplastic pollution in the United States. Still, the bill is criticized for being too limited in scope, and also for discouraging the development of biodegradable alternatives that ultimately are needed to solve the bigger issue of plastics in the environment. Due to a lack of an acknowledged, appropriate standard for environmentally safe microplastics, the bill banned all plastic microbeads in selected cosmetic products. Here, we review the history of the legislation and how it relates to the issue of microplastic pollution in general, and we suggest a framework for a standard (which we call “Ecocyclable”) that includes relative requirements related to toxicity, bioaccumulation, and degradation/assimilation into the natural carbon cycle. We suggest that such a standard will facilitate future regulation and legislation to reduce pollution while also encouraging innovation of sustainable technologies.
This study analyzes the “quantity” and “speed” decoupling relationship between marine pollution and economic growth in China from 2002 to 2013. The results show that, when the red-tide disaster areas by coastal region is used as marine pollution indicator, an inverted N-shaped relationship is observed between pollution and growth. However, this curve fluctuates slightly, and its shape is more similar to monotonic decreasing. There are three states of “speed” decoupling between each marine pollution and economic growth indicator. The decoupling state between pollution and the economy changes rapidly, the deterioration of marine pollution being rather frequent. In some years, the pressure on the marine environment aggravated dramatically. Having combined both analyses, the study determines that marine economic growth and pollution in China have not been entirely decoupled in recent years, and that environmental pressure on marine economic growth remains obvious.
Plastics, despite their great benefits, have become a ubiquitous environmental pollutant, with microplastic particles having come into focus most recently. Microplastic effects have been intensely studied in aquatic, especially marine systems; however, there is lack of studies focusing on effects on soil and its biota. A basic question is if and how surface-deposited microplastic particles are transported into the soil. We here wished to test if soil microarthropods, using Collembola, can transport these particles over distances of centimeters within days in a highly controlled experimental set-up. We conducted a fully factorial experiment with two collembolan species of differing body size, Folsomia candida and Proisotoma minuta, in combination with urea-formaldehyde particles of two different particle sizes. We observed significant differences between the species concerning the distance the particles were transported. F. candida was able to transport larger particles further and faster than P. minuta. Using video, we observed F. candida interacting with urea-formaldehyde particles and polyethylene terephthalate fibers, showing translocation of both material types. Our data clearly show that microplastic particles can be moved and distributed by soil microarthropods. Although we did not observe feeding, it is possible that microarthropods contribute to the accumulation of microplastics in the soil food web.
Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. Here we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information. Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.
Plastic waste that ends up in the oceans as marine litter is a tangible and urgent environmental pressure reaching even the most remote parts of the global oceans. It impacts marine life from plankton to whales and turtles to albatrosses. Public awareness on how the modern lifestyle and the use of plastics in all sectors of society has influenced the marine ecosystems in the last decades is growing, and an emerging discourse about countermeasures of all types can be seen in policies enacted by authorities in national, regional, and international policy arenas. Different coastal areas have launched Regional Action Plans (RAP) on marine litter that provide structured measures that need to be taken and general advice adapted to the respective region. However, the scale of the problem is not only global in dimension, it also cuts across all sectors in society, and until the use of materials in society becomes sustainable, plastic waste will continues to flow into the seas. This report focuses on how marine plastic litter affects Small Island Developing States (SIDS) because these are considered to be more directly vulnerable to environmental changes, including marine litter, than other countries.
This report was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water management and written by analysts at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment (affiliated with the University of Gothenburg, Lund University, and Chalmers University of Technology). In this report, it is documented how marine plastic litter reaches even the most remote parts of the oceans, such as some of the small island states, and how SIDS are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts such as climate change and marine litter. The origin and composition of marine plastic litter and its environmental and economic impacts are described. Finally, measures are discussed that can be launched to mitigate the problem, both from state agencies and private corporations. Here, measures from existing RAPs on marine litter are reviewed and examples of private initiatives are mentioned. Further, the corresponding legal framework is given and side effects of marine litter measures on the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN are debated.
Despite the environmental risks posed by microplastic pollution, there are presently few standardized protocols for monitoring these materials within marine and coastal habitats. We provide a robust comparison of methods for sampling microplastics on sandy beaches using pellets as a model and attempt to define a framework for reliable standing stock estimation. We performed multiple comparisons to determine: (1) the optimal size of sampling equipment, (2) the depth to which samples should be obtained, (3) the optimal sample resolution for cross-shore transects, and (4) the number of transects required to yield reproducible along-shore estimates across the entire sections of a beach. Results affirmed that the use of a manual auger with a 20-cm diameter yielded the best compromise between reproducibility (i.e., standard deviation) and sampling/processing time. Secondly, we suggest that sediments should be profiled to a depth of at least 1 m to fully assess the depth distribution of pellets. Thirdly, although sample resolution did not have major consequence for overall density estimates, using 7-m intervals provides an optimal balance between precision (SD) and effort (total sampling time). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, comparing the minimum detectable difference yielded by different numbers of transects along a given section of beach suggests that estimating absolute particle density is probably unviable for most systems and that monitoring might be better accomplished through hierarchical or time series sampling efforts. Overall, while our study provides practical information that can improve sampling efforts, the heterogeneous nature of microplastic pollution poses a major conundrum to reproducible monitoring and management of this significant and growing problem.
Marine litter and its accumulation on beaches is an issue of major current concern due to its significant environmental and economic impacts. Yet our understanding of spatio-temporal trends in beach litter and the drivers of these trends are currently limited by the availability of robust long term data sets. Here we present a unique data set collected systematically once a month, every month over a six year period for nine beaches along the North Coast of Cornwall, U.K. to investigate the key drivers of beach litter in the Bude, Padstow and Porthcothan areas. Overall, an average of 0.02 litter items m−2 per month were collected during the six year study, with Bude beaches (Summerleaze, Crooklets and Widemouth) the most impacted (0.03 ± 0.004 litter items m−2 per month). The amount of litter collected each month decreased by 18% and 71% respectively for Padstow (Polzeath, Trevone and Harlyn) and Bude areas over the 6 years, possibly related to the regular cleaning, however litter increased by 120% despite this monthly cleaning effort on the Padstow area beaches. Importantly, at all nine beaches the litter was dominated by small, fragmented plastic pieces and rope fibres, which account for 32% and 17% of all litter items collected, respectively. The weathered nature of these plastics indicates they have been in the marine environment for an extended period of time. So, whilst classifying the original source of these plastics is not possible, it can be concluded they are not the result of recent public littering. This data highlights both the extent of the marine litter problem and that current efforts to reduce littering by beach users will only tackle a fraction of this litter. Such information is vital for developing effective management strategies for beach and marine litter at both regional and global levels.
Marine debris poses considerable threat to biodiversity and ecosystems and has been identified as a stressor for a variety of marine life. Here we present results from the first study quantifying the amount and type of debris accumulation in Maui leeward waters and relate this to cetacean distribution to identify areas where marine debris may present a higher threat. Transect surveys were conducted within the 4-island region of Maui, Hawai'i from April 1, 2013 to April 15, 2016. Debris was found in all areas of the study region with higher concentrations observed where the Au'au, Kealaikahiki, and Alalakeiki channels converge. The degree of overlap between debris and cetaceans varied among species but was largest for humpback whales, which account for the largest portion of reported entanglements in the 4-island region of Maui. Identifying areas of high debris-cetacean density overlap can facilitate species management and debris removal efforts.
An ambitious nonprofit has announced new plan to sweep up plastic litter circulating in a "garbage patch" in the remote North Pacific. The Ocean Cleanup, based in Delft, the Netherlands, intends to launch a fleet of drifting trash collectors with booms that would funnel trash into central tanks, which ships would empty. Some experts and environmentalists have doubts. They say collecting trash closer to shore would be more cost effective, and they worry the project will distract from less glamorous efforts to keep plastic out of the sea in the first place. The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $31.5 million in donations, originally planned to deploy a 100-kilometer-long arc of booms and secure the unit to the sea bed some 5 kilometers down. But on 11 May, the group unveiled a revised blueprint that calls for up to 50 unmoored collectors, each just 1 or 2 kilometers long. They will be cheaper and faster to build, and they will collect more trash. The target is to start production in early 2018.
Due to increasing worldwide anthropogenic pressure and in order to promote adequate environmental conservation strategies, quantification of non-biological diversity, such as considering marine and beach litter, is becoming increasingly useful. Information on beach litter in terms of richness and diversity may have a consistent influence regarding the evaluation of its pressure and impact on coastal ecosystems. Highlighted are strengths, weaknesses and caveats concerning the use of uni- and bi-variate diversity metrics applied to a class of man-made non-biological objects periodically accumulated on the beaches. Two case studies show evidence that the application of diversity metrics on non-biological objects may have different implications. In absence of a universal and standardized non-biological taxonomy, it is important to be cautious when comparing values obtained from non-living assemblages, in particular if different sites, time or operators are considered. Moreover, different indices provide different information. Therefore, users should pay particular attention on the application of diversity metrics, addressing specific research questions and avoiding automatic calculation of redundant and “magic” indices.
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.