Plastic debris is a major global threat to marine ecosystems and species. However, our knowledge of this issue may be incomplete due to a lack of a standardized method for quantifying ingested ultrafine particles (1 μm – 1 mm) in wildlife. This study provides the first quantification of ultrafine plastic in seabirds using chemical and biological digestion treatments to extract plastic items from seabird gizzards. The alkaline agent, potassium hydroxide, outperformed the enzyme corolase, based on cost and efficiency (e.g., digestion time). Ultrafine plastics were observed in 7.0% of Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) gizzards collected from Lord Howe Island, Australia and accounted for 3.6% of all plastic items recovered (13 out of 359 items). Existing methods for extracting ingested plastic from seabirds do not account for ultrafine particles, therefore our results indicate current seabird plastic loads, and the associated physical and biological impacts, are underestimated.
Pollution and Marine Debris
The effect of fiber type (cotton, polyester, and rayon), temperature, and use of detergent on the number of microfibers released during laundering of knitted fabrics were studied during accelerated laboratory washing (Launder-Ometer) and home laundering experiments. Polyester and cellulose-based fabrics all shed significant amounts of microfibers and shedding levels were increased with higher water temperature and detergent use. Cellulose-based fabrics released more microfibers (0.2–4 mg/g fabric) during accelerated laundering than polyester (0.1–1 mg/g fabric). Using well-controlled aquatic biodegradation experiments it was shown that cotton and rayon microfibers are expected to degrade in natural aquatic aerobic environments whereas polyester microfibers are expected to persist in the environment for long periods of time.
Dolphin stranding events occur frequently in Florida and Massachusetts. Dolphins are an excellent sentinel species for toxin exposures in the marine environment. In this report we examine whether cyanobacterial neurotoxin, β-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), is present in stranded dolphins. BMAA has been shown to bioaccumulate in the marine food web, including in the muscles and fins of sharks. Dietary exposure to BMAA is associated with the occurrence of neurofibrillary tangles and β-amyloid plaques in nonhuman primates. The findings of protein-bound BMAA in brain tissues from patients with Alzheimer’s disease has advanced the hypothesis that BMAA may be linked to dementia. Since dolphins are apex predators and consume prey containing high amounts of BMAA, we examined necropsy specimens to determine if dietary and environmental exposures may result in the accumulation of BMAA in the brains of dolphins. To test this hypothesis, we measured BMAA in a series of brains collected from dolphins stranded in Florida and Massachusetts using two orthogonal analytical methods: 1) high performance liquid chromatography, and 2) ultra-performance liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry. We detected high levels of BMAA (20–748 μg/g) in the brains of 13 of 14 dolphins. To correlate neuropathological changes with toxin exposure, gross and microscopic examinations were performed on cortical brain regions responsible for acoustico-motor navigation. We observed increased numbers of β-amyloid+plaques and dystrophic neurites in the auditory cortex compared to the visual cortex and brainstem. The presence of BMAA and neuropathological changes in the stranded dolphin brain may help to further our understanding of cyanotoxin exposure and its potential impact on human health.
Our world is awash with plastic. The massive increase in plastics production, combined with a shift to single-use, disposable plastics and widespread mismanagement of plastic waste, has created a huge “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968) in our oceans, seas and waterways. Plastics pollution is now a global externality that damages ecosystems, curtails biodiversity and ultimately has the potential to affect everyone on the planet. Although waste output is often modelled separately from environmental pollution in research, in the case of plastics, the waste problem has become one of global pollution. In this paper, we model the relationship between mismanaged plastic waste and income per capita for 151 countries, and for the first time find empirical support for the environmental Kuznets curve using plastics pollution data. Further, we find support for the hypothesis that a key instrument for reducing plastics pollution is investment in scientific and technological research. The paper concludes with a discussion of the results, limitations, and implications for future research and practice.
This research takes a holistic approach to considering the consequences of marine plastic pollution. A semi-systematic literature review of 1191 data points provides the basis to determine the global ecological, social and economic impacts. An ecosystem impact analysis demonstrates that there is global evidence of impact with medium to high frequency on all subjects, with a medium to high degree of irreversibility. A novel translation of these ecological impacts into ecosystem service impacts provides evidence that all ecosystem services are impacted to some extent by the presence of marine plastic, with a reduction in provision predicted for all except one. This reduction in ecosystem service provision is evidenced to have implications for human health and wellbeing, linked particularly to fisheries, heritage and charismatic species, and recreation.
The impact of microplastics (MPs) on reef-building corals are still largely unknown. The scientific literature provides evidence from lab feeding trials that coral may ingest MPs. Several adverse effects, i.e., necrosis and bleaching, have also been highlighted. However, field studies are limited. Here, we investigated for the first time the possible correlation between MP seawater contamination and the presence of phthalic acid esters (PAEs), a class of MP-associated contaminants, in scleractinian corals. The survey was carried out in a remote coral reef atoll in the Indian Ocean located in the Maldivian archipelago, considered as a case study. MPs and PAEs were monitored in subsurface neustonic tow samples and scleractinian corals across twelve sampling sites. The results showed widespread MP contamination and the presence of appreciable levels of PAEs in the scleractinian corals sampled inside the atoll rim near an inhabited island, which correlated with the highest MP concentration.
Societal change is needed to prevent and reduce the growth in the amount of solid waste entering the sea. Marine debris networks cover a broad range of activities in order to protect our oceans. By following a common vision and a collective systematic approach they are capable of creating synergies between all relevant stakeholders that result in reducing the flow of waste into our oceans. Thus, they are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. During the 6th International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego in 2018, different marine debris networks from different parts of the world presented their activities, achievements and challenges. This led to network representatives agreeing to collaborate as members of an International Waste Platform. This platform aims to harmonize objectives, share knowledge, join forces and help new networks to emerge.
This study measured spatial distribution of marine debris stranded on beaches in South Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Citizen science, fetch modeling, relative exposure index and predictive mapping were used to determine marine debris source and abundance. Citizen scientists quantified debris type and abundance on 16 beaches within three coastal exposures (The Atlantic Ocean, Great Bahama Bank and The Exuma Sound) in South Eleuthera. Marine debris, (~2.5 cm or larger) on each beach was monitored twice between March–May and September–November 2013 at the same locations using GPS. Approximately, 93% of all debris items were plastic with plastic fragments (≤2.5 cm) being the most common. There were spatial differences (p ≤ 0.0001) in plastic debris abundance between coastal exposures. Atlantic Ocean beaches had larger quantities of plastic debris by weight and by meter (m) of shoreline. Stranded plastic may be associated with Atlantic Ocean currents associated with leakage from the North Atlantic sub-tropical gyre.
The anthropogenic marine debris, especially abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG), represents a rising concern, because of its potential harmful impact on the marine animal forests. We carried out 13 km of video recordings, by means of a remotely operated vehicle, from 10 to 210 m depth, in an anthropised area of the Tyrrhenian Sea (Mediterranean Sea). This site, for its high ecological importance and biodiversity value, has been identified for the establishment of a new marine protected area (MPA). The aim of this paper was to assess marine litter abundance and its effects on the benthic fauna. The debris density, in the study area, ranged from 0.24 to 8.01 items/100 m2, with an average of 3.49 (±0.59) items/100 m2. The derelict fishing gear, mainly fishing lines, were the main source of marine debris, contributing 77.9% to the overall litter. The impacts of debris on the benthic fauna were frequently recorded, with 28.5% of the litter entangling corals and impacting habitats of conservation concern. These impacts were exclusively caused by the derelict fishing gear (91.2% by longlines), and the highest percentage (49.1%) of ALDFG causing impacts was observed from 41 to 80 m depth, in the coralligenous biocenosis. The results of the present study will help the fulfilment of “harm” monitoring, as recommended by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the UN Environment/MAP Regional Plan on the marine litter management in the Mediterranean Sea. Regarding the actions to reduce the derelict fishing gear, preventive measures are usually preferred instead of the extensive removals based on cost-effectiveness and sustainability. The establishment of a new MPA in the area could be a good solution to reduce ALDFG, resulting in the improvement of the ecological status of this coastal area.
People are increasingly aware of ubiquitous microplastic (MP) pollution in the world's ocean due to its far-reaching harmful impacts on marine ecosystem and potential hazards to human health, yet surprisingly comparatively limited studies about the abundance, source, transport, and fate of MPs in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean are available. We conducted the field survey of MPs pollution at the surface of the Northwestern Pacific Ocean between August 25 and September 26, 2017. MPs were collected from 18 sampling stations in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean using a manta trawl net with a mesh size of ∼330 μm and a rectangular net opening of 0.45 × 1 m. The abundance, shape, color, size, chemical composition, and surface morphology were characterized using light microscopy, μ-Raman spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The results show surface MPs at concentrations ranging over two orders of magnitude (6.4 × 102 to 4.2 × 104 particles km−2) and a mean abundance of 1.0 × 104 particles km−2. The most concentrated MPs were found at XTJ3-9, which may be associated with the convergence of surface currents collectively affected by the Kuroshio and its extension, adjacent eddies, and flow regimes. Polyethylene accounts for 57.8% of enumerated MPs, followed by polypropylene (36.0%) and nylon (3.4%). Pellets, sheets, lines, and films are major forms which may be linked to the breakdown of larger particles, aging processes, and movement over long distances by prevailing currents. Four possible MPs migration pathways were proposed based on the source-specific distribution, chemical fingerprints, size distribution patterns, and the observed physical oceanographic parameters.