Under certain conditions, dispersed crude oil in the sea combines with organisms, organic matter, and minerals to form marine oil snow (MOS), thereby contributing to the sinking of oil to the seafloor. Marine microbes are the main players in MOS formation, particularly via the production of extracellular polymeric substances. Distinct groups of microbes also consume the majority of the hydrocarbons during descent, leading to enrichment of the less bioavailable hydrocarbons and asphaltenes in the residue. Here we discuss the dynamics of microbial communities in MOS together with their impacts on MOS evolution. We explore the effects of dispersant application on MOS formation, and consider ways in which laboratory experiments investigating MOS formation can be more representative of the situation in the marine environment, which in turn will improve our understanding of the contribution of MOS to the fate of spilled oil.
Pollution and Marine Debris
Trace elements (TEs) frequently contaminate coastal marine sediments with many included in priority chemical lists or control legislation. These, improved waste treatment and increased recycling have fostered the belief that TE pollution is declining. Nevertheless, there is a paucity of long-term robust datasets to support this confidence. By mining UK datasets (100s of sites, 31 years), we assess sediment concentrations of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb) and zinc (Zn) and use indices (PI [Pollution], TEPI [Trace Element Pollution] and Igeo [Geoaccumulation]) to assess TE pollution evolution. PI and TEPI show reductions of overall TE pollution in the 1980s then incremental improvements followed by a distinct increase (2010–13). Zn, As and Pb Igeo scores show low pollution, whilst Cd and Hg are moderate, but with all remaining temporally stable. Igeo scores are low for Ni, Fe and Cr, but increasing for Ni and Fe. A moderate pollution Igeo score for Cu has also steadily increased since the mid-1990s. Increasing site trends are not universal and, conversely, minimal temporal change masks some site-specific increases and decreases. To capture this variability we strongly advocate embedding sufficient sentinel sites within observation networks. Decreasing sediment pollution levels (e.g. Pb and Hg) have been achieved, but stabilizing Igeo and recently increasing TEPI and PI scores require continued global vigilance. Increasing Ni and Fe Igeo scores necessitate source identification, but this is a priority for Cu. Local, regional and world analyses indicate substantial ‘hidden’ inputs from anti-fouling paints (Cu, Zn), ship scrubbers (Cu, Zn, Ni) and sacrificial anodes (Zn) that are also predicted to increase markedly. Accurate TE input assessments and targeted legislation are, therefore, urgently required, especially in the context of rapid blue economic growth (e.g. shipping).
Marine snow formation and vertical transport are naturally occurring processes that carry organic matter from the surface to deeper waters, providing food and sequestering carbon. During the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, oil was incorporated with marine snow aggregates, triggering a Marine Oil Snow (MOS) Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA) event, that transferred a significant percentage of the total released oil to the seafloor. An improved understanding of processes controlling MOS formation and MOSSFA events is necessary for evaluating their impacts on the fate of spilled oil. Numerical models and predictive tools capable of providing scientific support for oil spill planning, response, and Natural Resource Damage Assessment are being developed to provide information for weighing the ecological trade-offs of response options. Here we offer considerations for oil spill response and recovery when assessing the potential for a MOSSFA event and provide tools to enhance decision-making.
Measuring local levels of marine pollution by microplastics (MP) and identifying potential sources in coastal areas is essential to evaluate the associated impacts to environment and biota. The accumulation of floating MP at the sea surface is of great concern as the neustonic habitat consists of a feeding ground for primary consumers (including filter-feeders) and active predators, which makes these organisms a relevant via of MP input into the marine trophic chain. Here, a baseline evaluation of MP accumulation at the sea surface was conducted with a neuston net (335 μm mesh) at the Arrábida coastal area, in Portugal. The study site encompasses a marine protected area and an estuary, both under strong anthropogenic pressures due to multiple activities taking place. A short-term investigation on local spatiotemporal distribution, concentration and composition of MP was performed for the first time, through the monthly collection (summer 2018 to winter 2019) of samples at 6 stations. All the neuston samples contained MP and their mean concentration was 0.45 ± 0.52 items m−3 (mean ± SD). Both the averaged MP:neuston and MP:ichthyoplankton ratios were higher in December, when concentrations of organisms decreased. Temporal distribution patterns followed expected trends, as MP concentration was clearly higher in winter months due to precipitation and runoff. Although mean MP concentrations did not vary significantly between sampling stations, there was a spatial distribution of MP in relation to particle shape and size. Fragments were the most abundant shape and MP belonging to 1–2 mm size class were dominant. Amongst a diversity of 10 polymers identified by FTIR analysis, polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and copolymer PP/PE were the most abundant. Potential links between local sources/activities and the different polymers were suggested. Altogether, the information provided in this study aims to raise awareness among the identified sectors and consequently to act toward the prevention of MP inputs in the region.
The global distribution of microplastic debris on the sea floor poses an increasing risk to marine organisms and ecosystems. Here, we present a distribution analysis of microplastics collected from eight marine multicores recovered from the Iceland continental shelf and surrounding areas at water depth between 241 and 1628 m. We report a total of 306 microplastics from the size range > 250 μm −5 mm, of which all were fibers. Microplastic numbers range between 0.119 and 0.768 per gram of dry sediments. In the analysis we assess the potential role of oceanic surface and bottom water currents, organic content, and sediment type on the distribution, deposition, and burial of microplastics in marine sediments. Our results provide the first record of microplastic pollution of marine sediments from the Iceland continental shelf and identify Atlantic Cod feeding and breeding grounds as potential hot spot for the accumulation of marine debris.
Abundance, chemical composition and ecological risk of microplastics (MPs) in terrestrial and marine environments have merited substantial attention from the research communities. This is the first attempt to comprehend the ecological risk of MPs in sediments along the Indian coast using meta-data. Polymer hazard index (PHI), pollution load index (PLI) and potential ecological risk index (PERI) were used to evaluate the quality of sediments. Areas have high PHI values (>1000) due to the presence of polymers with high hazard scores such as polyamide (PA) and polystyrene (PS). According to PLI values, sediments along the west coast of India (WCI) are moderately contaminated with MPs (PLI: 3.03 to 15.5), whereas sediments along the east coast of India (ECI) are less contaminated (PLI: 1 to 6.14). The PERI values of sediments along the Indian coast showed higher ecological risk for the metropolitan cities, river mouths, potential fishing zones and the remote islands.
The increased global demand for plastic materials has led to severe plastic waste pollution, particularly to the marine environment. This critical issue affects both sea life and human beings since microplastics can enter the food chain and cause several health impacts. Plastic recycling, chemical treatments, incineration and landfill are apparently not the optimum solutions for reducing plastic pollution. Hence, this review presents two newly identified environmentally friendly approaches, plastic biodegradation and bioplastic production using algae, to solve the increased global plastic waste. Algae, particularly microalgae, can degrade the plastic materials through the toxins systems or enzymes synthesized by microalgae itself while using the plastic polymers as carbon sources. Utilizing algae for plastic biodegradation has been critically reviewed in this paper to demonstrate the mechanism and how microplastics affect the algae. On the other hand, algae-derived bioplastics have identical properties and characteristics as petroleum-based plastics, while remarkably being biodegradable in nature. This review provides new insights into different methods of producing algae-based bioplastics (e.g., blending with other materials and genetic engineering), followed by the discussion on the challenges and further research direction to increase their commercial feasibility.
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.
An investigation into the abundance and distribution of meso- and microplastics within the Port of Durban was conducted using a static immersible water pump and particle filtration system to collect meso- and microplastics from the water column, microplastics from sediment samples and corresponding CTD. Microplastics were detected in all samples under investigation. Results suggest that sewage overflow, stormwater drains, port operations, followed by rivers are input areas for mitigation to focus on. Identifying meso- and microplastics inputs, baselines and distribution allow for long term monitoring and management in a harbour environment. This can potentially contribute to the control and regulation of small plastics particles in harbours, and the subsequent transport of these pollutants via dredged material into other ecosystems.
There is a lack of information on understanding how marine organisms respond to environmentally relevant microplastics (MP) which hampers decision making for waste management strategies. This study addresses this information gap by determining whether responses to MPs are species specific within a functional group. Benthic residing sea urchins, Psammechinus miliaris and Paracentrotus lividus were used as a case study. Psammechinus miliaris are strong omnivores with dietary intake including hard components (e.g. shell, tubeworms) and therefore likely to cope with the ingestion of MPs, while P. lividus are strong herbivores consuming softer dietary items (e.g. biofilms, algae) and therefore more likely sensitive. Responses to environmentally relevant MPs were conducted across two trials. Trial one determined the impact of short term (24 h) external exposure to storm-like sediment resuspension of MP concentrations (53 μm polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 25,000 MP L−1) compared to a control without MPs. No significant impacts were observed for both P. lividus and P. miliaris on metabolic rate or righting time, and urchins were able to remove MPs from the body surface using pedicellariae and cilia. Trial two determined the impact of medium term (2 months) ingestion of a diet laced with PVC MPs (59 μm) at an inclusion rate of 0.5% mass and a control diet (without MPs) on somatic growth and animal condition. The ingestion of MPs did not significantly impact P. miliaris but significantly reduced the alimentary index within P. lividus, indicating a compromised nutritional state. This study shows that responses to microplastics are species-specific and therefore cannot be generalized. Furthermore, feeding habit could act as a potential indicator for sensitivity to MP ingestion which will be important for impact assessments of plastic pollution and management strategies.