Revealing accumulation zones of plastic pellets in sandy beaches

Microplastics such as pellets are reported worldwide on sandy beaches, and have possible direct and indirect impacts on the biota and physical characteristics of the habitats where they accumulate. Evaluations of their standing stock at different spatial scales generate data on levels of contamination. This information is needed to identify accumulation zones and the specific beach habitats and communities that are likely to be most affected. Standing stocks of plastic pellets were evaluated in 13 sandy beaches in São Paulo state, Brazil. The sampling strategy incorporated across-shore transects from coastal dunes and backshores, and vertical profiles of the accumulated pellets down to 1 m depth below the sediment surface. Accumulation zones were identified at regional (among beaches) and local (between compartments) scales. At the regional scale pellet density tended to increase at beaches on the central and southwestern coast, near ports and factories that produce and transport the largest amounts of pellets in the country. At the local scale coastal dunes showed larger accumulations of pellets than backshores. For both compartments pellets tended to occur deeper in areas where standing stocks were larger. Most of the pellets were concentrated from the surface down to 0.4 m depth, suggesting that organisms inhabiting this part of the sediment column are more exposed to the risks associated with the presence of pellets. Our findings shed light on the local and regional scales of spatial variability of microplastics and their consequences for assessment and monitoring schemes in coastal compartments.

Fabiana T. Moreira, Danilo Balthazar-Silva, Lucas Barbosa, Alexander Turra, Environmental Pollution, Volume 218, November 2016, Pages 313–321

The article

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