Degradation of common polymer ropes in a sublittoral marine environment

Contamination by microplastic particles and fibres has been observed in sediment and animals sampled from the Firth of Clyde, West Scotland. In addition to microplastics released during clothes washing, a probable source is polymer ropes in abandoned, lost and discarded fishing and recreational sailing gear. The fragmentation of polypropylene, polyethylene, and nylon exposed to benthic conditions at 10 m depth over 12 months was monitored using changes in weight and tensile properties. Water temperature and light levels were continuously monitored. The degree of biofouling was measured using chlorophyll a, the weight of attached macroalgae, and colonising fauna. Results indicate microplastic fibres and particles may be formed in benthic environments despite reduced photodegradation. Polypropylene, Nylon, and polyethylene lost an average of 0.39%, 1.02%, and 0.45% of their mass per month respectively. Microscope images of the rope surface revealed notable surface roughening believed to be caused by abrasion by substrate and the action of fouling organisms.

Natalie A. Welden, Phillip R. Cowie, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 118, Issues 1–2, 15 May 2017, Pages 248–253

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