Mismanaged waste is accumulating at an alarming rate in the marine environment. Its presence has caused local authorities in the Balearic Islands to develop a coastal sea-cleaning boat service covering the region, identifying the floating marine debris, and removing it from the coastal areas. This study considered daily monitoring from May to October spanning from 2005 to 2015. Plastic marine debris composed over 54% of all floating marine debris removed daily across the Balearic Islands. The spatio-temporal patterns indicate a heterogeneous distribution of plastic in the coastal areas, with higher concentrations in the north-western and south-eastern regions of the islands and debris peaking during the month of August. Furthermore, floating marine debris was more easily collected during calm seas as well as using an integrated monitoring approach to facilitate its removal. Overall, sea-cleaning boats are highly effective in removing coastal floating marine debris.
Pollution and Marine Debris
As documented by the numerous publications that have appeared in recent years, plastic pollution of the environment and the effects on the respective ecosystems are currently one of the most intensely discussed issues in environmental science and in society at large. Of special concern are the effects of micro- and nano-sized plastics. A key issue in understanding the fate and potential effects of micro- and nano-sized plastics is their dynamic nature, as the size, shape, and charge of the particles change over time. Moreover, due to various biological processes, such as the aggregation of organic material and/or bacteria (“biofouling”), the density of plastic particles that settle in the sediments of aquatic ecosystems may be several orders of magnitudes higher than that in the surrounding waters. Consequently, the risk posed by plastic pollution to benthic fauna is considerably high. Nonetheless, the vast majority of studies examining the effects of microplastics have focused on pelagic organisms so far. We therefore conducted a comprehensive literature review to examine the impact of micro- and nano-sized plastics on benthic invertebrates, including the physical and chemical effects of leaching and the interactions of plastic particles with contaminants. Overall, 330 papers were reviewed for their fulfillment of different criteria (e.g., test species, plastic material, particle shape, particle size, exposure concentration, exposure route, assay type, assay duration), with 49 publications finally included in our survey. A comprehensive gap-analysis on the effects of plastic particles on benthic invertebrates revealed a wide variety of effects triggered by micro- and/or nano-sized plastics but also distinct differences regarding the plastic materials tested, the size fractions applied, the shape of the respective particles, and the exposure routes tested. Our review concludes with a discussion of the important research gaps concerning freshwater ecosystems and recommendations for future areas of research.
Several species found in the Bering Sea show significant spatial variation in total mercury concentrations ([THg]) longitudinally along the Aleutian Island chain. We assessed [THg] in other members of the Bering Sea food web to better understand the factors shaping regional differences. [THg] and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ15N and δ13C values) were measured in muscle tissue from 1052 fishes and cephalopods from parts of the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean adjacent to the Aleutian Islands. The spatial distribution of the samples enabled regional comparisons for 8 species of fish and one species of cephalopod. Four species showed higher mean length-standardized [THg] in the western Aleutian Islands management area. [THg] in yellow Irish lord were very different relative to those observed in other species and when included in multi-species analyses drove the overall regional trends in mean [THg]. Multi-species analyses excluding measurements for yellow Irish lord showed mean length-standardized [THg] was greater in the western Aleutian Islands than in the central Aleutian Islands management area. Linear regression of [THg] and δ15N values showed a significant and positive relationship across all species, varying between regions and across species. Isotopic space of all species was significantly different between the western Aleutian Islands and central Aleutian Islands, driven largely by δ13C values. Stable isotope values observed follow the same regional trend of lower trophic taxa reported in the literature, with significantly lower δ13C values in the western Aleutian Islands. We conclude that there are regional differences in carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ecology, as well as species-specific feeding ecology that influence [THg] dynamics in part of the marine food web along the Aleutian Island chain. These regional differences are likely contributors to the observed regional variations of [THg] in some high-level predators found in these regions.
Adverse impacts of marine litter is documented on >1400 species, including marine megafauna (fish, birds, sea turtles and mammals). The primary impacts include ingestion and entanglement, and there is increasing concern about chemical contamination via ingestion. Numerous survey approaches and monitoring programs have been developed and implemented around the world. They may aim to provide data about parameters such as species distribution and interactions with anthropogenic activities. During the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference, a session was dedicated to the tools and constraints in monitoring interactions between litter and megafauna. In the present paper, we summarize 7 case studies which discuss entanglement and ingestion including macro- and micro-debris in several taxa and across multiple geographic regions. We then discusses the importance of tools and standardizing methods for assessment and management purposes, in the context of international environmental policies and marine litter strategies.
We modelled and assessed the past, present and predicted future eutrophication status of the Baltic Sea. The assessment covers a 350-year period from 1850 to 2200 and is based on: (1) modelled concentrations of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), dissolved inorganic phosphorous (DIP), chlorophyll-a, Secchi depth, and oxygen under four different of nutrient input scenarios and (2) the application of a multi-metric indicator-based tool for assessment of eutrophication status: HEAT 3.0. This tool was previously applied using historical observations to determine eutrophication status from 1901 to 2012. Here we apply HEAT 3.0 using results of a biogeochemical model to reveal significant changes in eutrophication status from 1850 to 2200. Under two scenarios where Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) nutrient reduction targets are met, we expect future good status will be achieved in most Baltic Sea basins. Under two scenarios where nutrient loads remain at 1997–2003 levels or increase, good status will not be achieved. The change from a healthy state without eutrophication problems in the open waters took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Following introduction of the first nutrient abatement measures, recovery began in some basins in the late 1990s, whilst in others it commenced in the beginning of the 21st century. Based on model results, we expect that the first basin to achieve a status without eutrophication will be Arkona, between 2030 and 2040. By 2060–2070, a status without eutrophication is anticipated for the Kattegat, Bornholm Basin and Gulf of Finland, followed by the Danish straits around 2090. For the Baltic Proper and Bothnian Sea, a good status with regard to eutrophication is not expected before 2200. Further, we conclude that two basins are not likely to meet the targets agreed upon and to attain a status unaffected by eutrophication, i.e., the Gulf of Riga and Bothnian Bay. These results, especially the prediction that some basins will not achieve a good status, can be used in support of continuous development and implementation of the regional ecosystem-based nutrient management strategy, the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan.
Exposure to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill may have lasting impacts on preservation of historic shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. Submerged steel structures, including shipwrecks, serve as artificial reefs and become hotspots of biodiversity in the deep sea. Marine biofilms on submerged structures support settlement of micro- and macro-biota and may enhance and protect against corrosion. Disruptions in the local environment, including oil spills, may impact the role that biofilms play in reef preservation. To determine how the Deepwater Horizon spill potentially impacted shipwreck biofilms and the functional roles of the biofilm microbiome, experiments containing carbon steels disks (CSDs) were placed at five historic shipwreck sites located within, and external to the benthic footprint of the Deepwater Horizon spill. The CSDs were incubated for 16 weeks to enable colonization by biofilm-forming microorganisms and to provide time for in situ corrosion to occur. Biofilms from the CSDs, as well as sediment and water microbiomes, were collected and analyzed by 16S rRNA amplicon gene sequencing to describe community composition and determine the source of taxa colonizing biofilms. Biofilm metagenomes were sequenced to compare differential gene abundances at spill-impacted and reference sites. Biofilms were dominated by Zeta-, Alpha-, Epsilon-, and Gamma-proteobacteria. Sequences affiliated with the Mariprofundus and Sulfurimonas genera were prolific, and Roseobacter, and Colwellia genera were also abundant. Analysis of 16S rRNA sequences from sediment, water, and biofilms revealed sediment to be the main known source of taxa to biofilms at impacted sites. Differential gene abundance analysis revealed the two-component response regulator CreC, a gene involved in environmental stress response, to be elevated at reference sites compared to impacted sites within the spill plume fallout area on the seafloor. Genes for chemotaxis, motility, and alcohol dehydrogenases were differentially abundant at reference vs. impacted sites. Metal loss on CSDs was elevated at sites within the spill fallout plume. Time series images reveal that metal loss at a heavily impacted site, the German Submarine U-166, has accelerated since the spill in 2010. This study provides evidence that spill residues on the seafloor may impact biofilm communities and the preservation of historic steel shipwrecks.
Despite growing plastic discharge into the environment, researchers have struggled to detect expected increases of marine plastic debris in sea surfaces, sparking discussions about “missing plastics” and final sinks, which are hypothesized to be coastal and deep-sea sediments. While it holds true that the highest concentrations of plastic particles are found in these locations (103-104 particles m-3 in sediments vs. 0.1-1 particles m-3in the water column), our meta-analysis also highlights that in open oceans, microplastic polymer types segregated in the water column according to their density. Lower density polymers, such as polypropylene and polyethylene, dominated sea surface samples (25% and 42%, respectively) but decreased in abundance through the water column (3% and 2% in the deep-sea, respectively), whereas only denser polymers (i.e.polyesters and acrylics) were enriched with depth (5% in surface seawater vs. 77 % in deep-sea locations). Our meta-analysis demonstrates that some of the most abundant and recalcitrant manufactured plastics are more persistent in the sea surface than previously anticipated and that further research is required to determine the ultimate fate of these polymers as current knowledge does not support the deep sea as the final sink for all polymer types.
Plastic pollution is prevalent worldwide and affects marine wildlife from urbanized beaches to pristine oceanic islands. However, the ecological basis and mechanisms that result in marine animal ingestion of plastic debris are still relatively unknown, despite recent advances. We investigated the relationship between scavenging behavior and plastic ingestion using green turtles, Chelonia mydas, as a model. Diet analysis of C. mydas showed that sea turtles engaging in scavenging behavior ingested significantly more plastic debris than individuals that did not engage in this foraging strategy. We argue that opportunistic scavenging behavior, an adaptive behavior in most marine ecosystems, may now pose a threat to a variety of marine animals due to the current widespread plastic pollution found in oceans.
The ingestion of plastic marine litter (PML) by sea turtles is widespread and concerning, and the five species that occur in the southwestern Atlantic – green, loggerhead, olive ridley, leatherback and hawksbill – are vulnerable to this pollution. Here, we quantified and characterized PML ingested by these species in southern Brazil, and observed PML ingestion in 49 of 86 sampled individuals (~57.0%). Green turtles presented the highest rates and variety of ingested plastics, and such ingestion has been high at least since 1997. Omnivorous turtles presented higher PML ingestion than carnivorous ones. Loggerheads displayed a negative correlation between body size and number of ingested items. Green turtles ingested mostly flexible transparent and flexible/hard white plastics; loggerheads ate mainly flexible, hard and foam fragments, in white and black/brown colors. These results help us better understand PML ingestion by sea turtles, highlighting the seriousness of this threat and providing information for prevention and mitigation strategies.
Plastic pollution is a modern tragedy of the commons, with hundreds of species affected by society's waste. Birds in particular mistake plastic for prey, and millions of wild birds carry small plastic loads in their stomach and are exposed to potential toxicological effects. It is currently unknown how severely the toxicological and endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastic affect avian development, reproduction and endocrine function. To address this question, we conducted multi-generational plastic feeding experiments to test the toxicological consequences of plastic ingestion at environmentally relevant loads in Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, investigating parental and two filial generations. Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence of lasting toxicological effects on mortality, adult body weight, organ histology, hormone levels, fertility, hatch rates and eggshell strength in birds experimentally fed plastic. However, we found plastic ingestion causes higher frequencies of male reproductive cysts and minor delays in chick growth and sexual maturity, though without affecting ultimate survival or reproductive output. We report that although plastic ingestion causes detectable endocrine effects in our model species, our lack of finding mortality, morbidity and adverse reproductive outcomes may challenge the common hypothesis of severe toxicological harm and population-level effects when environmentally relevant loads of plastic are ingested.