Corals & Micro Plastics

Corals such as those found on the Great Barrier Reef are at risk from the estimated 5tn pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans because researchers have discovered they digest tiny fragments of plastic at a significant rate.

A study led by the ARC centre of excellence for coral reef studies at James Cook University found that corals consumed “microplastics” – plastics measuring under 5mm – about the same rate as their normal food.

From the Guardian

Read more about micro plastic pollution here



We met him earlier in November picking up plastic micro fibers on the beach. Now he reveals more about himself and his projects here….

Benign By Design’s unique data-driven process propels the textile industry toward cost effective fabrics that emit fewer and less toxic fibers.


Clothing fibers are the most abundant form of waste material that we find in habitats worldwide, and the problem is worsening. Ingested and inhaled fibers carry toxic materials and a third of the food we eat is contaminated with this material. In the textile industry, fabrics are generally selected based upon aesthetics, durability, cost, green chemistry and carbon footprints. Still, critical information on their environmental and health impacts is not considered because until now much of the scientific research is unavailable. This has led to the use of unsustainable and hazardous fibers in apparel.


Benign by Design disrupts the current unsustainable pattern by showing companies exactly how textile wear leads to fiber pollution and ways to control their emissions. They developed a trade-off analysis system that rigorously and scientifically selects the most cost effective material with the smallest impact; fabrics that emit fewer fibers and less toxic fibers. The interdisciplinary team of leaders in ecology, Life Cycle Assessment, toxicology, engineering, chemistry, forensics, and ecosystem management provides cutting-edge research to reduce environmental and health impacts of fabrics, including a novel method of fiber quantification (³ 1 µm) in wastewater and animal tissues.

 “Our program will lead to cost-effective fabrics that emit fewer and less toxic fibers via novel research on how fabrics compare throughout their life cycle.” – Dr. Mark Anthony Browne, National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS), University of California Santa Barbara

Stage of Innovation: Concept


Tracing emissions and impacts of fibers over their life cycle will guide sustainable design that builds upon established indices and tools (e.g. Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design tool) currently lacking such data. NCEAS pioneered open-data ecosystems (e.g. DataOne) to enable sharing, collaboration, contribution and unlimited accessibility to environmental data. Using this platform, and connections within the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the American Association of Textile Chemists & Colorists, they will find early adopters, and then leverage a case study to achieve certification through the EPA’s Design for Environment Program.

“Our product empowers consumers to make informed choices, enabling them, for the first time, to purchase less hazardous fabrics that shed fewer potentially toxic fibers and chemicals throughout their life cycle.” – Dr. Mark Anthony Browne, National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS), University of California Santa Barbara

Download the Benign by Design forum presentation

go to the website





Plastic in Plankton

Images of microplastic ingestion by plankton. From Cole, Matthew, et al. “Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton.” Environmental science & technology (2013).

plastic plankton


Laboratory studies that have shown ingestion in marine species.

Zooplankton: Cole et al. 2013
Invertebrates: Thompson et al. 2004; Besseling et al. 2013



And here it is on film


Nappies, tampons and wet wipes – dirty!


The liner or topsheet – made of the plastic polymer polypropylene – sits next to the baby’s skin and protects against wetness. From this layer, fluids flow down through the pulp-based tissue layer and into the core.

The core contains fluff pulp and SAP, an absorbent polymer to draw in and contain the baby’s urine and faeces.

Leakage from the nappy is minimised by a plastic bottom layer and the elastic barriers that hold the nappy around the child’s waist. The nappy is thrown away after it is soiled.

The average baby will go through 5,000 nappies. As 85 per cent of people are using disposables, they now form 4 per cent of all household waste, costing the taxpayer £40m each year to dispose of them.

Of the approximately eight million disposable nappies used in the UK every day, around 7.5 million end up in landfill sites.

Disposable nappies use three and a half times more energy than real nappies to produce, eight times more non-renewable materials and 90 times more renewable resources.The ecologist

7 million trees are cut down every year just to make disposable nappies Green Box Day

Menstrual Products

Along with cotton buds, tampons, applicators and panty liners make up 7.3 % of items flushed down the toilet in the UK.3

For every kilometre of beach included in the Beachwatch survey weekend in 2010, 22.5 towels/panty liners/backing strips, and 8.9 tampon applicators, were found.
According to the Sewer Network Action Programme, even products that are described as flushable or biodegradable can contribute to more than half (55%) of sewer flooding due to blockages in sewers.

In the UK alone, we buy more than 3 billion items of menstrual lingerie every year, spending £349 million in 2010 on sanitary and ‘feminine hygiene’ products.

About 90% of the materials used to make sanitary pads and liners are plastic and include polyethylene, polypropylene and polyacrylate super absorbents.

Every year, over 45 billion feminine hygiene products are disposed of somewhere.

Commercial production of superabsorbent polymers began in Japan in 1978 for use in sanitary pads. In the 80’s, using crude oil derived raw materials, European manufacturers enhanced the polymer so that it now absorbed 30 times it’s own weight under pressure. By the mid 90’s, production of SAP jumped to a massive 700 million tons. 75% used in diaper production, 10% in incontinence products, 10% in sanitary pads, and the rest in meat trays, etc.


natracare and womens environmental network

Items such as nappy liners, ‘flushable’ wipes and toilet seat liners cause many problems. But the main pest are women’s sanitary items.

The council says every single one has to be removed and sorted by hand by workers at waste stations.

Oh Yuck! Jesse Peach went to check out the undesirables in Wellington that haunt drains beneath our feet. Read more: 

Find out How to Menstruate Plastic Free here

plastic plankton
As we already know from this blog,tiny sea creatures, the bedrock of the food chain, ingest these micro plastics. You can see plankton hoovering up plastic here.  There is increasing evidence that this is not a healthy diet.

Best to cut back on synthetics especially  those items that may get get washed into the sea.



You can find out about natural fibres here




Microbeads…. the newest way to exfoliate. These tiny particles, or microbeads, scrub away at the skin supposedly leaving it wonderfully cleansed.  These beads may well deep clean your skin but guess what? Unless otherwise stated, they are almost certainly made from plastic.

After using, they are washed off your face and down the drain and into the ocean where they become pollutants that don’t biodegrade. Truly, plastic is rubbish!

Here’s a really easy way to avoid this problem.

Reusable Products

Cotton Flannels – the old school way to clean up. Rub away the dirt and dead skin…it works, honest.

Want tougher love? try a luffa. These dried fibrous vegetables will buff up your blackheads and polish your butt.  I got mine, unwrapped, from TKMax. I cut off smaller pieces to do my face with. Gently scour.

Then there are natural bristle brushes for body brushing. This is exactly as it sounds. Brushing your body and I love this. I have had my brush for ages and I can’t remember where I got it, but these look quite nice – sustainable beech body with pig bristles – vegans and vegetarians you could try these with tampico fibres. 

Exfoliating Scrubs From the Kitchen….

All these have been recommended on the internet. I usually use the above so cannot really comment.


it is probably good practice to do an allergy test and do some further research.


If you are happy to bumble along with me and are aware of the risks of listening to someone who

a) doesn’t have any training in this field,

b) most of what they know comes from Google,

Welcome aboard but please, proceed with caution….

Bicarbonate of soda. Before I knew as much as I did about bicarb I did use this occasionally on my face when it got really greasy and blotchy looking. Since I have found out how alkaline it is I think it is best left for the the laundry.  I do not  advise that you use it on your skin.

However if you choose to,  its particles are rough enough to scour off dead skin but not so brutal as to leave you weeping.  You can get plastic free bicarb here.

Pumice is a textural term for a volcanic rock ...

Pumice is a textural term for a volcanic rock that is a solidified frothy lava typically created when super-heated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salt is good and scratchy and makes a good  scrub. It  is not as harsh as pumice, and you can use it in a plastic bath. I like it for my oily chest but would not use it on my face. You can find  plastic free salt here.

Sugar Scrubs – use sugar mixed with coconut oil.  This one seems to work well .

Oatmeal –  described as soothing, exfoliating, soft (no scratchy edges) and known for its gentle, skin-healthy effects. It also contains vitamins B and E. Grind  up plastic free oats in a food processor. I don’t use this on my face because I have get a reaction to it. I find it too brutal.

Coffee Grounds – grab them out of the pot rub them on.  Let them cool down first! I will use these occasionally and sparingly as it is a bugger to clean the shower afterwards

Other stuff….

For truly brutal exfoliation try pumice powder…arghhhhh. Best suited to hands, feet and really grisly elbows.  Use up to 10% in a moisturising cream base (find out how to make your own right here). Do not use the pumice scrub on sensitive skin. Do not use in a plastic bath – it may take off the surface. Can be bought from Aromantics.   (NB Comes in a plastic bag)

Other plastic free health and beauty products can be found right here


plastic kills plankton

Microplastics may be killing teeny, tiny beasties. Particles of plastic of 20 microns in diameter (a width thinner than a human hair) called micro plastics and are being found in the oceans in ever-increasing quantities.

College of the Atlantic senior Marina Garland has been studying the problem.

“According to Garland, lab studies have been conducted indicating that aquatic microorganisms such as plankton can also mistake micro plastic particles for food and subsequently be killed by the adverse effects of the particle on the organism’s digestive tract. Additionally, said Garland, various toxins are known to cling to plastic particles through a process known as adsorption. As a result, plastic flotsam collected from oceans is often a concentrated source for such toxic chemicals as the pesticide DDT. Microorganisms that ingest the toxic plastic particles are often consumed by larger organisms, which then become toxic themselves. The concentration of toxicity in marine organisms continues to increase at the higher levels of the food chain through a process known as biomagnification.”

You can see her presentation here

Find out more about micro plastics here

Image of plankton from Pinterest



Microplastics Reports

Rachid Dris, Johnny Gasperi, Mohamed Saad, Cécile Mirande, Bruno Tassin, Synthetic fibers in atmospheric fallout: A source of microplastics in the environment?, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 17 January 2016, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Sources, pathways and reservoirs of microplastics, plastic particles smaller than 5 mm, remain poorly documented in an urban context. While some studies pointed out wastewater treatment plants as a potential pathway of microplastics, none have focused on the atmospheric compartment. In this work, the atmospheric fallout of microplastics was investigated in two different urban and sub-urban sites. Microplastics were collected continuously with a stainless steel funnel. Samples were then filtered and observed with a stereomicroscope. Fibers accounted for almost all the microplastics collected. An atmospheric fallout between 2 and 355 particles/m2/day was highlighted. Registered fluxes were systematically higher at the urban than at the sub-urban site. Chemical characterization allowed to estimate at 29% the proportion of these fibers being all synthetic (made with petrochemicals), or a mixture of natural and synthetic material. Extrapolation using weight and volume estimates of the collected fibers, allowed a rough estimation showing that between 3 and 10 tons of fibers are deposited by atmospheric fallout at the scale of the Parisian agglomeration every year (2500 km2). These results could serve the scientific community working on the different sources of microplastic in both continental and marine environments.

Keywords: Microplastics; Urban environment; Atmospheric fallout; Microplastic sources; Synthetic fibers

Note to users:

Corrected proofs are Articles in Press that contain the authors’ corrections. Final citation details, e.g., volume and/or issue number, publication year and page numbers, still need to be added and the text might change before final publication.

Although corrected proofs do not have all bibliographic details available yet, they can already be cited using the year of online publication and the DOI , as follows: author(s), article title, Publication (year), DOI. Please consult the journal’s reference style for the exact appearance of these elements, abbreviation of journal names and use of punctuation.

When the final article is assigned to volumes/issues of the Publication, the Article in Press version will be removed and the final version will appear in the associated published volumes/issues of the Publication. The date the article was first made available online will be carried over.

Maria Cristina Fossi, Letizia Marsili, Matteo Baini, Matteo Giannetti, Daniele Coppola, Cristiana Guerranti, Ilaria Caliani, Roberta Minutoli, Giancarlo Lauriano, Maria Grazia Finoia, Fabrizio Rubegni, Simone Panigada, Martine Bérubé, Jorge Urbán Ramírez, Cristina Panti, Fin whales and microplastics: The Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Cortez scenarios, Environmental Pollution, Volume 209, February 2016, Pages 68-78, ISSN 0269-7491,


Abstract: The impact that microplastics have on baleen whales is a question that remains largely unexplored. This study examined the interaction between free-ranging fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and microplastics by comparing populations living in two semi-enclosed basins, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California, Mexico). The results indicate that a considerable abundance of microplastics and plastic additives exists in the neustonic samples from Pelagos Sanctuary of the Mediterranean Sea, and that pelagic areas containing high densities of microplastics overlap with whale feeding grounds, suggesting that whales are exposed to microplastics during foraging; this was confirmed by the observation of a temporal increase in toxicological stress in whales. Given the abundance of microplastics in the Mediterranean environment, along with the high concentrations of Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemicals, plastic additives and biomarker responses detected in the biopsies of Mediterranean whales as compared to those in whales inhabiting the Sea of Cortez, we believe that exposure to microplastics because of direct ingestion and consumption of contaminated prey poses a major threat to the health of fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea.

Keywords: Microplastics; Baleen whales; Plastic additives; PBT chemicals; Mediterranean Sea; Sea of Cortez

Scott Lambert, Martin Wagner, Characterisation of nanoplastics during the degradation of polystyrene, Chemosphere, Volume 145, February 2016, Pages 265-268, ISSN 0045-6535,


Abstract: The release of plastics into the environment has been identified as an important issue for some time. Recent publications have suggested that the degradation of plastic materials will result in the release of nano-sized plastic particles to the environment. Nanoparticle tracking analysis was applied to characterise the formation of nanoplastics during the degradation of a polystyrene (PS) disposable coffee cup lid. The results clearly show an increase in the formation of nanoplastics over time. After 56 days’ exposure the concentration of nanoplastics in the PS sample was 1.26 × 108 particles/ml (average particles size 224 nm) compared to 0.41 × 108 particles/ml in the control.

Keywords: Nanoplastics; Microplastics; Polystyrene; Degradation; Environment; Nanoparticle tracking analysis

Charlene Boucher, Marie Morin, L.I. Bendell, The influence of cosmetic microbeads on the sorptive behavior of cadmium and lead within intertidal sediments: A laboratory study, Regional Studies in Marine Science, Volume 3, January 2016, Pages 1-7, ISSN 2352-4855,


Abstract: Concentrations of microplastics within two geographically distinct urban locations within Burrard Inlet, British Columbia (BC), and the influence of facial scrub microbeads on lead and cadmium sorption within intertidal sediments were determined. Bulk intertidal sediment sampled from Cates Park (CP) located within the protected part of the inlet contained greater concentrations of microplastics (5560/kg wet sediment) as compared to Horseshoe Bay (HSB) (3120/kg wet sediment) located on the exposed open part of the inlet. Of the recovered microplastics ca. 75% were characterized as microbeads. Laboratory controlled microcosm experiments in which microbeads separated from a commercial facial scrub were added to bulk sediments collected from CP at ambient and 10-fold ambient (high) concentrations indicated that the microbeads acted as sorption sites. At ambient concentrations, less lead was recovered from pore water and surface water of treatment as compared to control microcosms. At high concentrations, the microbeads acted as a contaminant source to the microcosms, notably cadmium. Sorption of lead to microbeads has important implications for the potential role of microplastics, in this case microbeads acting as a yet quantified link in aquatic food webs.

Keywords: Microbeads; Lead; Cadmium; Intertidal sediments; Flood tide; Ebb tide

Pedro Ferreira, Elsa Fonte, M. Elisa Soares, Felix Carvalho, Lúcia Guilhermino, Effects of multi-stressors on juveniles of the marine fish Pomatoschistus microps: Gold nanoparticles, microplastics and temperature, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 170, January 2016, Pages 89-103, ISSN 0166-445X,


Abstract: Knowledge on multi-stressors effects required for environmental and human risk assessments is still limited. This study investigated the combined effects of gold nanoparticles (Au-NP), microplastics (MP) and temperature increase on Pomatoschistus microps, an important prey for several higher level predators, including some species edible to humans. Four null hypotheses were tested: H01: P. microps juveniles do not take up Au-NP through the water; H02: Au-NP (ppb range) are not toxic to juveniles; H03: the presence of MP do not influence the effects of Au-NP on juveniles; H04: temperature increase (20–25 °C) does not change the effects of the tested chemicals on juveniles. Wild juveniles were acclimated to laboratory conditions. Then, they were exposed to Au-NP (≈5 nm diameter) and MP (polyethylene spheres, 1–5 μm diameter), alone and in mixture, at 20 °C and 25 °C, in semi-static conditions. After 96 h of exposure to Au-NP, fish had gold in their body (0.129–0.546 μg/g w.w.) leading to H01 refusal. Exposure to Au-NP alone caused a predatory performance decrease (≈−39%, p < 0.05) leading to H02 refusal. MP did not change the Au-NP toxicity leading to H03 acceptance. Temperature rise significantly increased the concentration of gold in fish exposed to Au-NP (≈2.3 fold), and interacted with chemical effects (e.g. glutathione S-transferases activity) leading to H04 refusal. Thus, the results of this study highlight the importance of further investigating the effects of multi-stressors on marine fish, particularly the effects of temperature on the uptake, biotransformation, elimination and effects of nanoparticles and microplastics, either alone or in mixture. This knowledge is most important to improve the basis for environmental and human risk assessments of these environmental contaminants of high concern.

Keywords: Pomatoschistus microps; Temperature; Gold nanoparticles; Microplastics; Predatory performance; Biomarkers

Sascha B. Sjollema, Paula Redondo-Hasselerharm, Heather A. Leslie, Michiel H.S. Kraak, A. Dick Vethaak, Do plastic particles affect microalgal photosynthesis and growth?, Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 170, January 2016, Pages 259-261, ISSN 0166-445X,


Abstract: The unbridled increase in plastic pollution of the world’s oceans raises concerns about potential effects these materials may have on microalgae, which are primary producers at the basis of the food chain and a major global source of oxygen. Our current understanding about the potential modes and mechanisms of toxic action that plastic particles exert on microalgae is extremely limited. How effects might vary with particle size and the physico-chemical properties of the specific plastic material in question are equally unelucidated, but may hold clues to how toxicity, if observed, is exerted. In this study we selected polystyrene particles, both negatively charged and uncharged, and three different sizes (0.05, 0.5 and 6 μm) for testing the effects of size and material properties. Microalgae were exposed to different polystyrene particle sizes and surface charges for 72 h. Effects on microalgal photosynthesis and growth were determined by pulse amplitude modulation fluorometry and flow cytometry, respectively. None of the treatments tested in these experiments had an effect on microalgal photosynthesis. Microalgal growth was negatively affected (up to 45%) by uncharged polystyrene particles, but only at high concentrations (250 mg/L). Additionally, these adverse effects were demonstrated to increase with decreasing particle size.

Keywords: Primary production; Plastic pollution; Microplastics; Nanoplastics; Polystyrene particles; PAM assay

Fares John Biginagwa, Bahati Sosthenes Mayoma, Yvonne Shashoua, Kristian Syberg, Farhan R. Khan, First evidence of microplastics in the African Great Lakes: Recovery from Lake Victoria Nile perch and Nile tilapia, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Available online 11 November 2015, ISSN 0380-1330,


Abstract: Microplastic contamination in the African Great Lakes is currently unreported, and compared to other regions of the world little is known about the occurrence of microplastics in African waters and their fauna. The present study was conducted in the Mwanza region of Tanzania, located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. The gastrointestinal tracts of locally fished Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) were examined for plastics. Plastics were confirmed in 20% of fish from each species by Attenuated Total Reflectance Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. A variety of polymer types were identified with likely sources being urban waste and consumer use. Although further research is required to fully assess the impact of plastic pollution in this region, our study is the first to report the presence of microplastics in Africa’s Great Lakes and within the fish species that inhabit them.

Index words: Plastic ingestion; Lates niloticus; Oreochromis niloticus; Lake Victoria; East Africa; ATR-FTIR analysis

Note to users: Corrected proofs are Articles in Press that contain the authors’ corrections. Final citation details, e.g., volume and/or issue number, publication year and page numbers, still need to be added and the text might change before final publication.

Although corrected proofs do not have all bibliographic details available yet, they can already be cited using the year of online publication and the DOI , as follows: author(s), article title, Publication (year), DOI. Please consult the journal’s reference style for the exact appearance of these elements, abbreviation of journal names and use of punctuation.

When the final article is assigned to volumes/issues of the Publication, the Article in Press version will be removed and the final version will appear in the associated published volumes/issues of the Publication. The date the article was first made available online will be carried over.

On the Hunt for Shipping Containers Lost off California Coast

December 16, 2015 by Office of Response and Restoration

On December 11, 2015, the Matson container ship M/V Manoa was en route to Seattle from Oakland, California, when it lost 12 large containers in heavy seas. At the time of the spill, the ship was maneuvering in order to allow the San Francisco Bay harbor pilot to disembark.

The containers, which are 40 feet long and 9 feet wide, are reported as empty except for miscellaneous packing materials, such as plastic crates and packing materials such as Styrofoam. Luckily there were no hazardous materials in the cargo that was spilled.

The accident occurred about eight miles outside of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Three containers have come ashore, two at or near Baker Beach, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, and one at Mori Point near Pacifica, California. The search continues for the others.

Who are Albie and Phil?

Albie Cross (young Albatross) and Phil (crab with a  bad sense of humour) have come into your world to help explain the damaged caused by plastic pollution and make us think twice about our disposable society and behaviour of consuming plastic bottles.

They would like you to join their movement and help raise awareness that the 200 billion plastic bottles consumed per year is not just killing them by ultimately will threaten the entire eco system of this planet, wildlife and us.

Be inspired to change your decision to consume plastic bottles and make the choice to be the leader in your family, school, at work, at your social club or gym, down the pool, at the beach, walking in the park, on the TV, on a photo shoot, in the paper or anytime you take a drink of water.

It’s simple, Albie and Phil ask you to just think before you drink to help reduce your plastic footprint.

Welcome to your first plastinography lesson

You have probably heard there’s lots of plastic in the ocean. But how does it get there? Why is it bad? And what can you do? In six lessons, we’ll take you through the basics of plastics in the ocean: plastinography.

Let’s take a look at where the plastic problem starts. Close this screen and start exploring by clicking on the circles.

Once you’ve clicked on all the circles, go to the next lesson. Or use the navigation button in the top left to move through all the lessons.

Dear colleagues,

Since nothing was sent during the period from 16 September to 14 December, please find below the articles published in volumes 99 (15 October 2015) and 100 (15 November 2015) of the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Kind regards,


Weiwei Zhang, Xindong Ma, Zhifeng Zhang, Yan Wang, Juying Wang, Jing Wang, Deyi Ma, Persistent organic pollutants carried on plastic resin pellets from two beaches in China, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 28-34, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Microplastics provide a mechanism for the long-range transport of hydrophobic chemical contaminants to remote coastal and marine locations. In this study, plastic resin pellets were collected from Zhengmingsi Beach and Dongshan Beach in China. The collected pellets were analyzed for PAHs, PCBs, HCHs, DDTs, chlordane, heptachlor, endosulfan, aldrin, dieldrin and endrin. The total concentration of PCBs ranged from 34.7–213.7 ng g−1 and from 21.5–323.2 ng g−1 in plastic resin pellets for Zhengmingsi Beach and Dongshan Beach respectively. The highest concentrations of PCBs were observed for congeners 44, 110, 138, 155 and 200. The total concentration of PAHs ranged from 136.3–1586.9 ng g−1 and from 397.6–2384.2 ng g−1 in the plastic pellets, whereas DDTs concentration ranged from 1.2–101.5 ng g−1 and from 1.5–127.0 ng g−1 for the two beaches. The elevated concentrations of pollutants appear to be related to extensive industrial development, agricultural activity and the use of coal in the area.

Keywords: Microplastics; PCBs; PAHs; OCPs

Lincoln Fok, P.K. Cheung, Hong Kong at the Pearl River Estuary: A hotspot of microplastic pollution, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 112-118, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Large plastic (>5 mm) and microplastic (0.315–5 mm) debris were collected from 25 beaches along the Hong Kong coastline. More than 90% consisted of microplastics. Among the three groups of microplastic debris, expanded polystyrene (EPS) represented 92%, fragments represented 5%, and pellets represented 3%. The mean microplastic abundance for Hong Kong was 5595 items/m2. This number is higher than international averages, indicating that Hong Kong is a hotspot of marine plastic pollution. Microplastic abundance was significantly higher on the west coast than on the east coast, indicating that the Pearl River, which is west of Hong Kong, may be a potential source of plastic debris. The amounts of large plastic and microplastic debris of the same types (EPS and fragments) were positively correlated, suggesting that the fragmentation of large plastic material may increase the quantity of beach microplastic debris.

Keywords: Marine debris; Microplastics; Abundance; Beach survey; Hong Kong; Pearl River Estuary

Imogen E. Napper, Adil Bakir, Steven J. Rowland, Richard C. Thompson, Characterisation, quantity and sorptive properties of microplastics extracted from cosmetics, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 178-185, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Cosmetic products, such as facial scrubs, have been identified as potentially important primary sources of microplastics to the marine environment. This study characterises, quantifies and then investigates the sorptive properties of plastic microbeads that are used as exfoliants in cosmetics. Polyethylene microbeads were extracted from several products, and shown to have a wide size range (mean diameters between 164 and 327 μm). We estimated that between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads could be released in a single use. To examine the potential for microbeads to accumulate and transport chemicals they were exposed to a binary mixture of 3H-phenanthrene and 14C-DDT in seawater. The potential for transport of sorbed chemicals by microbeads was broadly similar to that of polythene (PE) particles used in previous sorption studies. In conclusion, cosmetic exfoliants are a potentially important, yet preventable source of microplastic contamination in the marine environment.

Keywords: Microplastic; Exfoliating microbeads; Polyethylene; Ocean pollution; Contaminant

Andrea Stolte, Stefan Forster, Gunnar Gerdts, Hendrik Schubert, Microplastic concentrations in beach sediments along the German Baltic coast, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 216-229, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: The contamination with microplastic particles and fibres was evaluated on beaches along the German Baltic coast. Sediments were sampled near the Warnow and Oder/Peene estuaries, on Rügen island and along the Rostock coast to derive possible entry pathways. Seasonal variations were monitored along the Rostock coast from March to July 2014. After density separation in saline solution, floating particles were found to be dominated by sand grains. Water surface tension is shown to be sufficient to explain floatation of grains with sizes less than 1.5 mm. Selecting intensely coloured particles and fibres, we find lower limits of the microplastic concentrations of 0–7 particles/kg and 2–11 fibres/kg dry sediment. The largest microplastic contaminations are measured at the Peene outlet into the Baltic Sea and in the North Sea Jade Bay. City discharges, industrial production sites, fishing activity and tourism are the most likely sources for the highest microplastic concentrations.

Keywords: Microplastics; Marine debris; German Baltic coast; Abundance; Spatial distribution; Seasonal variation

Elena Gorokhova, Screening for microplastic particles in plankton samples: How to integrate marine litter assessment into existing monitoring programs?, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 271-275, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Microplastics (MPs) are a newly recognized type of environmental pollution in aquatic systems; however no monitoring of these contaminants is conducted, mostly due to the lack of routine quantification. In the net samples collected with a 90-μm WP2 net, pelagic MP abundance was quantified by light microscopy and evaluated as a function of inshore–offshore gradient, depth, and season; the same samples were used for zooplankton analysis. The MP abundance was ∼102–104 particles m−3, with no significant inshore–offshore gradient during summer but increasing offshore in winter. MP abundance in deeper layers was positively affected by zooplankton abundance in the upper layers and significantly lower during winter compared to summer. These findings indicate heterogeneity of MP distribution due to biotic and abiotic factors and suggest that samples collected for other purposes can be used for quantification of MPs in the Baltic Sea, thus facilitating integration of MP assessment into existing monitoring schemes.

Keywords: Pelagic microplastics; Marine litter; Zooplankton monitoring; Vertical distribution; Baltic Sea; Copepods

Diogo Neves, Paula Sobral, Tânia Pereira, Marine litter in bottom trawls off the Portuguese coast, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 99, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2015, Pages 301-304, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Benthic marine litter along the Portuguese coast, was recorded in 14 trips on stern trawlers covering a distance of 2117 km and an area of 56.2 km2, average depth range 90–349 m. 2034 items of marine litter were registered, 76% were plastics and 38.6% were originated from fishing related activities. Plastic was present in all the trawls and had the highest average density of all litter categories, 50 items km−2.

The highest density of marine litter (178.9 ± 64.0 items km−2) was found in the proximity of the Tagus river mouth, probably related to the high population density in the Lisbon metropolitan area.

This study highlights the need to raise fishermen awareness for the adoption of good environmental practices that will contribute to the reduction of marine litter.

Keywords: Bottom marine litter trawls; Plastics; Fishing gear; Portugal

Kristina Enders, Robin Lenz, Colin A. Stedmon, Torkel G. Nielsen, Abundance, size and polymer composition of marine microplastics ≥ 10 μm in the Atlantic Ocean and their modelled vertical distribution, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 100, Issue 1, 15 November 2015, Pages 70-81, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: We studied abundance, size and polymer type of microplastic down to 10 μm along a transect from the European Coast to the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre (NASG) using an underway intake filtration technique and Raman micro-spectrometry. Concentrations ranged from 13 to 501 items m− 3. Highest concentrations were observed at the European coast, decreasing towards mid-Atlantic waters but elevated in the western NASG. We observed highest numbers among particles in the 10–20 μm size fraction, whereas the total volume was highest in the 50–80 μm range. Based on a numerical model size-dependent depth profiles of polyethylene microspheres in a range from 10–1000 μm were calculated and show a strong dispersal throughout the surface mixed layer for sizes smaller than 200 μm. From model and field study results we conclude that small microplastic is ubiquitously distributed over the ocean surface layer and has a lower residence time than larger plastic debris in this compartment.

Keywords: Small microplastic; Continuous monitoring; Horizontal distribution; Size-selective vertical distribution; Model

Robin Lenz, Kristina Enders, Colin A. Stedmon, David M.A. Mackenzie, Torkel Gissel Nielsen, A critical assessment of visual identification of marine microplastic using Raman spectroscopy for analysis improvement, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 100, Issue 1, 15 November 2015, Pages 82-91, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Identification and characterisation of microplastic (MP) is a necessary step to evaluate their concentrations, chemical composition and interactions with biota. MP ≥ 10 μm diameter filtered from below the sea surface in the European and subtropical North Atlantic were simultaneously identified by visual microscopy and Raman micro-spectroscopy. Visually identified particles below 100 μm had a significantly lower percentage confirmed by Raman than larger ones indicating that visual identification alone is inappropriate for studies on small microplastics. Sixty-eight percent of visually counted MP (n = 1279) were spectroscopically confirmed being plastic. The percentage varied with type, colour and size of the MP. Fibres had a higher success rate (75%) than particles (64%). We tested Raman micro-spectroscopy applicability for MP identification with respect to varying chemical composition (additives), degradation state and organic matter coating. Partially UV-degraded post-consumer plastics provided identifiable Raman spectra for polymers most common among marine MP, i.e. polyethylene and polypropylene.

Keywords: Small microplastics; RAMAN; Spectroscopy; Photodegradation

Melissa B. Phillips, Timothy H. Bonner, Occurrence and amount of microplastic ingested by fishes in watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 100, Issue 1, 15 November 2015, Pages 264-269, ISSN 0025-326X,


Abstract: Ingestion of microplastics by fishes could be an emerging environmental crisis because of the proliferation of plastic pollution in aquatic environments. Microplastics in marine ecosystems are well documented, however only one study has reported percent occurrence of microplastics in freshwater fishes. The purpose of this study was to quantify the occurrences and types of microplastics ingested by fishes within several freshwater drainages of the Gulf of Mexico and an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. Among 535 fishes examined in this study, 8% of the freshwater fishes and 10% of the marine fishes had microplastics in their gut tract. Percentage occurrence of microplastics ingested by fishes in non-urbanized streams (5%) was less than that of one of the urbanized streams (Neches River; 29%). Percent occurrence of microplastics by habitat (i.e., benthic, pelagic) and trophic guilds (herbivore/omnivore, invertivore, carnivore) were similar. Low but widespread occurrences among drainages, habitat guilds, and trophic guilds indicate proliferation of plastic pollution within watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico, but consequences to fish health are unknown at this time.

Keywords: Plastic pollution; Texas rivers; Habitat guilds; Trophic guilds; Urbanized and non-urbanized streams


Microplastic in the sea. Studies.

From the BBC News

Dr Richard Thompson at the University of Plymouth researches what happens when plastic breaks down (degrades) in seawater

They have identified plastic particles of around 20 microns – thinner than the diameter of a human hair.
In 2004 their study reported the incidence of the particles had been increasing over the years.

They have found plastic particles smaller than grains of sand.

They estimate there are 300,000 items of plastic per sq km of sea surface, and 100,000 per sq km of seabed.

Thompson and his team conducted experiments on three species of filter feeders and found that the barnacle, the lugworm and the common amphipod or sand-hopper all  readily ingested plastic as they fed along the seabed.

They wanted to  establish if chemicals can leach out of degraded plastic and if plastic absorbs other contaminants such as PCBs and other polymer additives.

“The plastics industry’s response is that much of the research is speculative at this stage, and that there is very little evidence that this transfer of chemicals is taking place in the wild.It says it is doing its bit by replacing toxic materials used as stabilisers and flame retardants with less harmful substances.
Whatever the findings eventually show, there is little that can be done now to deal with the vast quantities of plastic already in our oceans. It will be there for decades to come.”

You can read more about the problems of micro plastic pollution here.

More Science

And if you want more data on the problem here are just a few of the hundreds of studies being done. Thanks to Fabiano of for keeping us well informed.

Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N. Waters, Juliana Ivar do Sul, Patricia L. Corcoran, Anthony D. Barnosky, Alejandro Cearreta, Matt Edgeworth, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Catherine Jeandel, Reinhold Leinfelder, J.R. McNeill, Will Steffen, Colin Summerhayes, Michael Wagreich, Mark Williams, Alexander P. Wolfe, Yasmin Yonan, The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene, Anthropocene, Available online 18 January 2016, ISSN 2213-3054,
Abstract: The rise of plastics since the mid-20th century, both as a material element of modern life and as a growing environmental pollutant, has been widely described. Their distribution in both the terrestrial and marine realms suggests that they are a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene, as a distinctive stratal component. Most immediately evident in terrestrial deposits, they are clearly becoming widespread in marine sedimentary deposits in both shallow- and deep-water settings. They are abundant and widespread as macroscopic fragments and virtually ubiquitous as microplastic particles; these are dispersed by both physical and biological processes, not least via the food chain and the ‘faecal express’ route from surface to sea floor. Plastics are already widely dispersed in sedimentary deposits, and their amount seems likely to grow several-fold over the next few decades. They will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle over coming millennia as temporary stores – landfill sites – are eroded. Plastics already enable fine time resolution within Anthropocene deposits via the development of their different types and via the artefacts (‘technofossils’) they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata.
Keywords: Anthropocene; Plastics; Stratigraphy

Carme Alomar, Fernando Estarellas, Salud Deudero, Microplastics in the Mediterranean sea: Deposition in coastal shallow sediments, spatial variation and preferential grain size, Marine Environmental Research, Available online 18 January 2016, ISSN 0141-1136,
Abstract: Marine litter loads in sea compartments are an emergent issue due to their ecological and biological consequences. This study addresses microplastic quantification and morphological description to test spatial differences along an anthropogenic gradient of coastal shallow sediments and further on to evaluate the preferential deposition of microplastics in a given sediment grain fraction. Sediments from Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) contained the highest concentrations of microplastics (MPs): up to 0.90±0.10 MPs/g suggesting the transfer of microplastics from source areas to endpoint areas. In addition, a high proportion of microplastic filaments were found close to populated areas whereas fragment type microplastics were more common in MPAs. There was no clear trend between sediment grain size and microplastic deposition in sediments, although microplastics were always present in two grain size fractions: 2mm>x>1mm and 1mm>x 0.5mm.
Keywords: Marine litter; MPAs; Anthropogenic gradient; Sieve fractions; Contamination; Balearic islands

Teresa Rocha-Santos, Armando C. Duarte, A critical overview of the analytical approaches to the occurrence, the fate and the behavior of microplastics in the environment, TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry, Available online 11 December 2014, ISSN 0165-9936,
Abstract: Plastics can be found in food packaging, shopping bags, and household items, such as toothbrushes and pens, and facial cleansers. Due to the high disposability and low recovery of discharged materials, plastics materials have become debris accumulating in the environment. Microplastics have a dimension <5 mm and possess physico-chemical properties (e.g., size, density, color and chemical composition) that are key contributors to their bioavailability to organisms. This review addresses the analytical approaches to characterization and quantification of microplastics in the environment and discusses recent studies on their occurrence, fate, and behavior. This critical overview includes a general assessment of sampling and sample handling, and compares methods for morphological and physical classification, and methodologies for chemical characterization and quantification of the microplastics. Finally, this review addresses the advantages and the disadvantages of these techniques, and comments on future applications and potential research interest within this field.
Keywords: Debris; Detection; Environment; Marine environment; Microplastic; Plastic; Sampling; Seawater; Sediment; Water

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Reisser J, Proietti M, Shaw J and Pattiaratchi C (2014) Ingestion of plastics at sea: does debris size really matter? Front. Mar. Sci. 1:70. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00070

Keywords: microplastics, marine debris, plastic ingestion, zooplankton grazing, copepods

Reisser, J., Slat, B., Noble, K., du Plessis, K., Epp, M., Proietti, M., de Sonneville, J., Becker, T., and Pattiaratchi, C.: The vertical distribution of buoyant plastics at sea, Biogeosciences Discuss., 11, 16207-16226, doi:10.5194/bgd-11-16207-2014, 2014.

Abstract. Millimeter-sized plastics are numerically abundant and widespread across the world’s ocean surface. These buoyant macroscopic particles can be mixed within the upper water column due to turbulent transport. Models indicate that the largest decrease in their concentration occurs within the first few meters of water, where subsurface observations are very scarce. By using a new type of multi-level trawl at 12 sites within the North Atlantic accumulation zone, we measured concentrations and physical properties of plastics from the air–seawater interface to a depth of 5 m, at 0.5 m intervals. Our results show that plastic concentrations drop exponentially with water depth, but decay rates decrease with increasing Beaufort scale. Furthermore, smaller pieces presented lower rise velocities and were more susceptible to vertical transport. This resulted in higher depth decays of plastic mass concentration (mg m−3) than numerical concentration (pieces m−3). Further multi-level sampling of plastics will improve our ability to predict at-sea plastic load, size distribution, drifting pattern, and impact on marine species and habitats.

Review Status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG).