Do microplastic loads reflect the population demographics along the southern African coastline?
Plastic pollution is a major anthropogenic contaminant effecting the marine environment and is often associated with high human population densities and industrial activities. The microplastic (63 to 5000 μm) burden of beach sediment and surf-zone water was investigated at selected sites along the entire length of the South African coastline. It was predicted that samples collected in areas of high population density, would contain a higher microplastic burden than those along coasts that demonstrate very low population densities. With the exception of water column microplastics within Richard's Bay Harbour (413.3 ± 77.53 particles·m− 3) and Durban Harbour (1200 ± 133.2 particles·m− 3), there were no significant spatial differences in microplastic loads. This supports the theory that harbours act as a source of microplastics for the surrounding marine environment. Additionally, the absence of any spatial variation highlights the possible long range distribution of microplastic pollutants by large scale ocean currents.