Plastic debris is globally found around the world and the remote Arctic is no exception. Arctic true seals are sentinel species of marine pollution and represent the link between marine food webs and Arctic apex predators like polar bears and humans. With regard to true seals, ingested macroplastics have never been reported in an Arctic species. We harvested 10 harp seals Pagophilus groenlandicus and 8 hooded seals Cystophora cristata from the breeding grounds in the pack ice of the Greenland Sea. The digestive tract was inspected exclusively for the presence of macroplastics (>5 mm). Two pieces of single-use plastic were found in the stomach of a weaned hooded seal pup. This study indicates that young Arctic marine predators may ingest macroplastics, and therefore may be at risk during their early stages of life due to human caused plastic pollution even in the remote Arctic pack ice.
Pollution and Marine Debris
Marine litter is a growing concern for marine animals, including cetaceans for which there is a developing body of evidence showing impacts of both entanglement and ingestion. Better understanding is needed of the current and predicted scales of impacts on cetacean species of both macro- and micro-litter. Some emerging methodological approaches, such as the “threefold approach,” will help address data gaps. The relationship between this form of pollution and some cetaceans is strong and the particular feeding habits, and widespread distribution of two whale species means that they can be proposed as ocean health indicators for macro- and micro-litter impacts at global scales, helping steer research. The species concerned are sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), for macro-litter at depth, and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), for micro-debris. Once appropriate techniques have been fully developed for non-lethal assessment, other whale species might also be used as indicators of litter pollution in their specific feeding zones.
Phytoplankton shifts driven by the environmental changes can significantly impact the functioning of marine ecosystems. Analyzing time series data is an important way to understand how phytoplankton responds to environmental changes. Here, multiple indicators, including diatoms and dinoflagellate cysts, total organic matter, carbon and nitrogen isotopes, and biosilicate, were analyzed in the sediment core from the Central Bohai Sea. A 250-year palaeo-environment was reconstructed based on these indicators to examine the responses of phytoplankton assemblages to environmental events. Two significant shifting points were identified from the varying trend of diatoms and cysts. The first one occurred in the 1850s, when the Yellow River outlet relocated from the southern Yellow Sea to the Bohai Sea, as evidenced by finer grain size and lower sea salinity, causing a significant increase in total biomass and brackish species. The other shift happened in the 1970s, when significantly increased fertilizer usage and wastewater discharge led to more organic matter in the core and nitrogen enrichment in the water column up to the 2010s, causing a marked increase in total biomass, small-sized species, and harmful algal bloom species. Redundancy analysis between major community shifts and environmental factors indicated that the Yellow River input and nutrient enrichment had a more important role in regulating phytoplankton shifts than rising temperature after the 1970s.
During an oil spill, shallow, tropical coral reefs are likely to be simultaneously exposed to high intensities of ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can exacerbate the toxicity of petroleum oils. While successful recruitment of corals is critical for reef recovery following disturbances, the sensitivity of several early life stages of coral to petroleum hydrocarbons has not been investigated, particularly for UVR co-exposure. Here we present the first dataset on the relative sensitivity of three early life stages (gametes, embryos and planula larvae) in a model broadcast spawning coral species, Acropora millepora, to the dissolved fraction of a heavy fuel oil (HFO), both in the absence and presence of UVR. All early life stages were negatively impacted by HFO exposure but exhibited distinct sensitivities. Larval metamorphosis was the most sensitive endpoint assessed with a 10% effect concentration of 34 μg L−1 total aromatic hydrocarbons (TAH) in the absence of UVR. The impact on fertilisation success was highly dependent on sperm density, while the fragmentation of embryos masked embryo mortality. Larval metamorphosis was conclusively the most reliable endpoint for use in risk assessments of the endpoints investigated. Putative critical target lipid body burdens (CTLBBs) were calculated for each life stages, enabling a comparison of their sensitivities against species in the Target Lipid Model (TLM) database. A. millepora had a putative CTLBB of 4.4 μmol g−1 octanol for larval metamorphosis, indicating it is more sensitive than any species currently included in the TLM database. Coexposure to UVR reduced toxicity thresholds by 1.3-fold on average across the investigated life stages and endpoints. This increase in sensitivity in the presence of UVR highlights the need to incorporate UVR co-exposure (where ecologically relevant) when assessing oil toxicity thresholds, otherwise the risks posed by oil spills to shallow coral reefs are likely to be underestimated.
Windrow is a long-established term for the aggregations of seafoam, seaweeds, plankton and natural debris that appear on the ocean surface. Here, we define a “litter windrow” as any aggregation of floating litter at the submesoscale domain (<10 km horizontally), regardless of the force inducing the surface convergence, be it wind or other forces such as tides or density-driven currents. The marine litter windrows observed to date usually form stripes from tens up to thousands of meters long, with litter densities often exceeding 10 small items (<2 cm) per m2 or 1 large item (>2 cm) per 10 m2. Litter windrows are generally overlooked in research due to their dispersion, small size and ephemeral nature. However, applied research on windrows offers unique possibilities to advance on the knowledge and management of marine litter pollution. Litter windrows are hot spots of interaction with marine life. In addition, since the formation of dense litter windrows requires especially high loads of floating litter in the environment, their detection from space-borne sensors, aerial surveys or other platforms might be used to flag areas and periods of severe pollution. Monitoring and assessing of management plans, identification of pollution sources, or impact prevention are identified as some of the most promising fields of application for the marine litter windrows. In the present Perspective, we develop a conceptual framework and point out the main obstacles, opportunities and methodological approaches to address the study of litter windrows.
This paper investigates the linkage between the acute impacts on apex marine mammals with polar cod responses to an oil spill. It proposes a Bayesian network-based model to link these direct and indirect effects on the apex marine mammals. The model predicts a recruitment collapse (for the scenarios considered), causing a higher risk of mortality of polar bears, beluga whales, and Narwhals in the Arctic region. Whales (adult and calves) were predicted to be at higher risk when the spill was under thick ice, while adult polar bears were at higher risk when the spill occurred on thin ice. A spill over the thick ice caused the least risk to whale and adult polar bears. The spill's timing and location have a significant impact on the animals in the Arctic region due to its unique sea ice dynamics, simple food web, and short periods of food abundance.
Plastic products have played significant roles in protecting people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The widespread use of personal protective gear created a massive disruption in the supply chain and waste disposal system. Millions of discarded single-use plastics (masks, gloves, aprons, and bottles of sanitizers) have been added to the terrestrial environment and could cause a surge in plastics washing up the ocean coastlines and littering the seabed. This paper attempts to assess the environmental footprints of the global plastic wastes generated during COVID-19 and analyze the potential impacts associated with plastic pollution. The amount of plastic wastes generated worldwide since the outbreak is estimated at 1.6 million tonnes/day. We estimate that approximately 3.4 billion single-use facemasks/face shields are discarded daily as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, globally. Our comprehensive data analysis does indicate that COVID-19 will reverse the momentum of years-long global battle to reduce plastic waste pollution. As governments are looking to turbo-charge the economy by supporting businesses weather the pandemic, there is an opportunity to rebuild new industries that can innovate new reusable or non-plastic PPEs. The unanticipated occurrence of a pandemic of this scale has resulted in unmanageable levels of biomedical plastic wastes. This expert insight attempts to raise awareness for the adoption of dynamic waste management strategies targeted at reducing environmental contamination by plastics generated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The floating marine debris (FMD) and the associated rafting communities are one of the major stressors to ecosystem services, global biodiversity and economy and human health. In this study, assemblages of encrusting organisms on different types of stranded FMD along the west coast of Qatar, Arabian/Persian Gulf (hereafter referred to as ‘Gulf’) were examined. The analysis showed 18 fouling species belonging to 5 phyla (Annelida, Anthropoda, Bryozoa, Mollusca and Porifera) on the FMD. The most abundant fouling species were the encrusting Amphibalanus amphitrite, polychaete Spirobranchus kraussii, Bryozoan species and Megabalanus coccopoma. More number of taxa were found on larger size FMD than on smaller FMD. Some of the barnacle rafting types were found to be non-indigenous species. The central and northwest parts of the Qatar had more FMD and fouled species than in other locations. Winds and the prevailing hydrodynamic conditions (waves and currents) played an important role in the transportation and distribution of FMD and associated organisms along the west coast of Qatar. The present study confirmed that huge amount of bio-fouled FMD items, causing great damage to biodiversity, drift in the surface layer of ocean and eventually strand onto the beaches. We propose a simple, but an effective management plan for FMD and associated organisms at regional scale to restore the biodiversity, sustainability and health of the marine ecosystem in the Gulf.
Neuston samples were collected with a Manta trawl in the rim of the Arctic Ocean, in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea at eleven coastal and open-sea locations. All samples contained plastics identified by FTIR microscopy. Altogether, 110 microplastics pieces were classified according to size, shape, and polymer type. The concentrations at the locations were generally low (x̅ = 0.06, SD ± 0.04 particles m−3) as compared to previous observations. The highest concentrations were found towards the Arctic Ocean, while those in the Baltic Sea were generally low. The most abundant polymer type was polyethylene. Detected particle types were mainly fragments. The number of films and fibers was very low. The mean particle size was 2.66 mm (SD ± 1.55 mm). Clustering analyses revealed that debris compositions in the sea regions had characteristic differences possibly reflecting the dependences between compositions, drifting distances, sinking rates, and local oceanographic conditions.
Plastic pollution has become a global threat to the marine environment. Many studies have indicated that marine creatures are at risk of plastic ingestion, but relevant studies are still lacking in Taiwan. In this study, we quantified plastic debris ingestion by marine fish in the coastal waters of the Hengchun Peninsula, including the Kenting National park, located in southern Taiwan. We also investigated possible biotic and abiotic factors associated with the quantity of ingested plastic by fish. In the 117 fish samples we examined, 94.87% of them had ingested plastic debris, and all of the observed debris was microplastics (<5 mm). The average number of ingested microplastics was 5.6 ± 5.1 pieces per fish (ranged 0–32 pieces per fish). The major type and color of microplastics were fiber (96%) and blue (43%), respectively. The quantity of ingested microplastics was not significantly different between the reef and pelagic fish. However, reef fish from the more populated west and south coast ingested more microplastics than that from the east coast, suggesting that microplastic ingestion by fish is related to human activity. Regarding biotic factors, the size, trophic level, and taxonomic family of the fish were not significantly associated with the number of ingested microplastics. Our results, the first investigation of microplastic ingestion in marine fish of Taiwan, show a high prevalence of microplastic ingestion but no biomagnification of microplastics in the fish. More research is much needed to better characterize the biological and ecological impacts of plastic debris on fish.