Exposure of coastal environments to river-sourced plastic pollution

Last modified: 
January 29, 2021 - 2:14pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2021
Date published: 05/2021
Authors: P.T. Harris, L. Westerveld, B. Nyberg, T. Maes, M. Macmillan-Lawler, L.R. Appelquist
Journal title: Science of The Total Environment
Volume: 769
Pages: 145222
ISSN: 00489697

Marine litter is a global problem which poses an increasing threat to ecosystem services, human health, safety and sustainable livelihoods. In order to better plan plastic pollution monitoring and clean-up activities, and to develop policies and programmes to deter and mitigate plastic pollution, information is urgently needed on the different types of coastal ecosystem that are impacted by land-sourced plastic inputs, especially those located in proximity to river mouths where plastic waste is discharged into the ocean. We overlayed the most current existing information on the input of plastic to the sea from land-based sources with maps of coastal environments and ecosystems. We found an inverse relationship exists between coastal geomorphic type, plastic trapping efficiency and the mass of plastic received. River-dominated coasts comprise only 0.87% of the global coast and yet they receive 52% of plastic pollution delivered by fluvial systems. Tide-dominated coasts receive 29.9% of river-borne plastic pollution and this is also where mangrove and salt marsh habitats are most common. Wave-dominated coasts receive 11.6% of river-borne plastic pollution and this is where seagrass habitat is most common. Finally, rocky shores comprise 72.5% of the global coast, containing fjords and coral reefs, while only receiving 6.4% of river-borne plastic pollution. Mangroves are the most proximal to river-borne plastic pollution point sources of the four habitat types studied here; 54.0% of mangrove habitat is within 20 km of a river that discharges more than 1 t/yr of plastic pollution into the ocean. For seagrass, salt marsh and coral reefs the figures are 24.1%, 22.7% and 16.5%, respectively. The findings allow us to better understand the environmental fate of plastic pollution, to advance numerical models and to guide managers and decision-makers on the most appropriate responses and actions needed to monitor and reduce plastic pollution.

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