Plastics in the ocean are of great concern nowadays, and are often referred to as the apocalyptic twin of climate change in terms of public fear and the problems they pose to the aquatic and terrestrial environment. The number of studies focusing on the ecological effects and toxicity of plastics has substantially increased in the last few years. Considering the current trends in the anthropogenic activities, the amount of plastics entering the world oceans is increasing exponentially, but the oceans have a low assimilative capacity for plastics and the near-surface layer of it is a finite space. If loading of the oceans with plastics continues at the current rate, the thin sea surface microlayer can have a substantial amount of plastics comparable to the distribution of phytoplankton, at least in the major oceanic gyres and coastal waters in the future. Also, processes like biofouling can cluster microplastics in dense fields in the near-surface layer. Plastics can contribute to the warming or cooling of the water column by scattering and attenuating incoming solar radiation, leading to a potential change in the optical and other physico-chemical properties of the water column. We propose a new notion that changes in solar radiation in the water column due to the plastics have the potential to affect the physical processes in the ocean surface and near-surface layers, and can induce climate feedback cycles. The future can be very different, if plastics evolve as one of the key players affecting the ocean physical processes and hence this is the time to tackle this puzzle with appropriate strategies or let the genie out of the bottle.
Pollution and Marine Debris
Dams are known to trap pollutants such as metals and PCBs in the sediment that accumulates within their reservoirs. As more attention is paid to microplastics, an emerging contaminant in waterways worldwide, and how they move along rivers, whether microplastic particles also accumulate behind dams is an important question for informing estimates of global river inputs to oceans. In this study, we measured microplastic concentrations above, below, and within the reservoirs of six dams near Ithaca, NY USA. Samples were processed following the wet peroxide oxidation method and visual counting, followed by Raman Spectroscopy validation. We found that microplastic concentrations in sediment within reservoirs was significantly higher than in sediment above the dams (p = 0.005), and in water samples, concentrations within reservoirs was significantly lower (p = 0.02). Plastic fibers were the dominant plastic type, but in within-reservoir sediment samples, less abundant plastic types such as plastic fragments were found in higher proportions. These results show that the sediment collecting behind dams is one sink for microplastics in river systems at long timescales, indicating that accounting for dams may be important when modeling global riverine microplastic transport.
Plastic pollution is a pervasive problem to marine life. This study aimed (1) to investigate levels of microplastic in wild and farmed mussels (Perna perna), and (2) to assess the effectiveness of depuration in reducing microplastics. Wild and farmed mussels were sampled from Guanabara Bay (Southwestern Atlantic). Four treatments were compared (N = 10 mussels/treatment): wild non-depurated mussels, wild depurated mussels, farmed non-depurated mussels, and farmed depurated mussels. Up to 31.2 ± 17.8 microplastics/mussel (≥0.45 μm) were detected (means ± SD), and microplastics were present in all 40 individuals analyzed. Nylon fibers were more abundant than polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) fragments. Blue, transparent, and red nylon fibers were more abundant in both wild and farmed mussels. Although 93 h-depuration significantly reduced microplastics (ANOVA, p = 0.02) in both wild (46.79%) and farmed mussels (28.95%), differences between farmed and wild mussels were not significant (p > 0.05). Depuration was more effective in removing blue fibers. Our results highlight the importance of depuration in reducing microplastic pollution in seafood.
This study examines the extent of macroplastic pollution on Samandağ beach and the potential effects on green sea turtles during nesting. For this purpose, a total of 39 different turtle tracks were studied. Mean plastic concentration was found to be 19.5 ± 1.2 pcs m−2. Among the different types of crawling, the highest concentrations of plastics were found on the tracks of turtles that did not attempt to dig nests (25.9 ± 8.4 pcs m−2). In total, 7 different types of plastics (disposable, film, fishing-related, foam, fragments, miscellaneous, and textile) were found, with film-type plastics being the most prevalent (11 pcs m−2). Samandağ beach was found to be greatly more polluted than any other beach in the Mediterranean Sea. We concluded that this pollution can cause negative effects, especially entanglement and entrapment, on green sea turtle females and hatchlings.
Plastic pollution is distributed across the globe, but compared with marine environments, there is only rudimentary understanding of the distribution and effects of plastics in other ecosystems. Here, we review the transport and effects of plastics across terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. We focus on hydrological catchments as well-defined landscape units that provide an integrating scale at which plastic pollution can be investigated and managed. Diverse processes are responsible for the observed ubiquity of plastic pollution, but sources, fluxes and sinks in river catchments are poorly quantified. Early indications are that rivers are hotspots of plastic pollution, supporting some of the highest recorded concentrations. River systems are also likely pivotal conduits for plastic transport among the terrestrial, floodplain, riparian, benthic and transitional ecosystems with which they connect. Although ecological effects of micro- and nano-plastics plastics might arise through a variety of physical and chemical mechanisms, consensus and understanding of their nature, severity and scale is restricted. Furthermore, whilst individual-level effects are often graphically represented in public media, knowledge of the extent and severity of the impacts of plastic at population, community and ecosystem levels is limited. Given the potential social, ecological and economic consequences, we call for more comprehensive investigations of plastic pollution in ecosystems to guide effective management action and risk assessment. This is reliant on (i) expanding research to quantify sources, sinks, fluxes and fates of plastics in catchments and transitional waters both independently as a major transport routes to marine ecosystems; (ii) improving environmentally relevant dose-response relationships for different organisms and effect pathways, (iii) scaling up from studies on individual organisms to populations and ecosystems, where individual effects are shown to cause harm; and (iv) improving biomonitoring through developing ecologically relevant metrics based on contemporary plastic research. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Marine litter is a global threat to marine biodiversity. However, there is a key knowledge gap on the impacts of marine litter in the Philippines – a country of high marine biodiversity and large exclusive economic zone. This gap is addressed here by using information shared on the internet by citizen scientists and conservation groups to assess the impacts of marine litter on megafauna. Facebook, presently the largest social media platform, was scanned for posts concerning the interaction between litter and marine species in the Philippines. Results showed thirty-two individuals from 17 species were affected by marine litter in the country. Furthermore, ingestion (61%) was the most frequent interaction reported. Mindanao was also identified as a hotspot for marine litter interactions. The study highlights the utility of social media in providing data to create an inventory of marine species adversely affected by litter and the spatial distribution of these interactions.
To verify weather mangroves act as sinks for marine litter, we surveyed through visual census 20 forests along the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, both in inhabited and remote locations. Anthropogenic debris items were counted and classified along transects, and the influence of main drivers of distribution were considered (i.e. land-based and ocean-based sources, density of the forest and properties of the object). We confirmed that distance to major maritime traffic routes significantly affects the density of anthropogenic debris in Red Sea mangrove forests, while this was independent of land-based activities. This suggests ocean-based activities combined with surface currents as major drivers of litter in this basin. Additionally, litter was more abundant where the mangrove density was higher, and object distribution through the mangrove stand often depended on their shape and dimension. We particularly show that pneumatophores act as a sieve retaining large plastic objects, leading to higher plastic mass estimates in mangroves compared to those of beaches previously surveyed in the Red Sea.
Microplastic (MP) pollution is an emerging issue in aquatic sciences. Little comparative information currently exists about the problem in coastal systems exposed to different levels of human impact. Here we report a year-long study on the abundance of MP in the water column of three estuaries on the east-coast of Australia. The estuaries are subject to different scales of human impact; the Clyde estuary has little human modification, the Bega estuary has a small township and single wastewater treatment works discharging to its waters, and the Hunter estuary which has multiple townships, multiple wastewater treatment plants, and heavy industry. MP abundance followed an expected pattern with the lowest abundance in the low-impact Clyde estuary (98 part. m3), moderate levels of MP in the moderately impacted Bega estuary (246 part. m3), and high MP abundance in the highly impacted Hunter estuary (1,032 part. m3). The majority of particles were < 200 μm and fragment-like rather than fiber-like. MP abundance was positively related to maximum antecedent rainfall in the Bega estuary, however there are no clear environmental factors that could explain MP variation in the other systems. MP were generally higher in summer and following freshwater inflow events. On the Hunter estuary MP abundance was at times as high as zooplankton abundance, and within the range of numbers reported in other highly impacted systems globally. The results confirm that higher levels of human impact lead to greater plastic pollution and highlight the need to examine aquatic ecosystems under a range of conditions in order to adequately characterize the extent of MP pollution in rivers and coastal systems.
As petroleum development and other activities move further north, the potential for oil spills in ice-covered waters is of great concern. As a tool for contingency planning and forecasting during response, oil spill models play a key role. With the development of new, high-resolution coupled ice-ocean models, better predictions of sea ice are becoming available. We have updated the OSCAR oil spill model to use sea-ice velocity and coverage fields from coupled ice-ocean models to improve simulation of oil fate and transport in ice-covered waters.
We describe the implementation of oil transport in the presence of ice, and demonstrate the improvement by considering three case studies. We find clear improvement when taking ice velocity from a coupled ice-ocean model into account, compared to a heuristic model that uses surface current and wind velocity. The difference is found to be especially important in a response situation near the marginal ice zone.
Identifying terrestrial sources of debris is essential to suppress the flow of plastic to the ocean. Here, we report a novel source of debris to the marine environment. From May 2016 to June 2018, we collected golf balls from coastal environments associated with five courses in Carmel, California. Our 75 collections recovered 39,602 balls from intertidal and nearshore environments adjacent to, or downriver from, the golf courses. Combining our collections with concurrent efforts of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Pebble Beach Corporation, we report the retrieval of 50,681 balls, totaling approximately 2.5 tons of debris. We also examined decomposition patterns in the collected balls, which illustrate that degradation and loss of microplastic from golf balls to the marine environment may be of concern. Our findings will help to develop and direct mitigation procedures for this region and others with coastal golf courses.