Influence of environmental and anthropogenic factors on the composition, concentration and spatial distribution of microplastics: A case study of the Bay of Brest (Brittany, France)

The concentration and spatial distribution of microplastics in the Bay of Brest (Brittany, France) was investigated in two surveys. Surface water and sediment were sampled at nine locations in areas characterized by contrasting anthropic pressures, riverine influences or water mixing. Microplastics were categorized by their polymer type and size class. Microplastic contamination in surface water and sediment was dominated by polyethylene fragments (PE, 53–67%) followed by polypropylene (PP, 16–30%) and polystyrene (PS, 16–17%) microparticles. The presence of buoyant microplastics (PE, PP and PS) in sediment suggests the existence of physical and/or biological processes leading to vertical transfer of lightweight microplastics in the bay. In sediment (upper 5 cm), the percentage of particles identified by Raman micro-spectroscopy was lower (41%) than in surface water (79%) and may explain the apparent low concentration observed in this matrix (0.97 ± 2.08 MP kg−1 dry sediment). Mean microplastic concentration was 0.24 ± 0.35 MP m−3 in surface water. We suggest that the observed spatial MP distribution is related to proximity to urbanized areas and to hydrodynamics in the bay. A particle dispersal model was used to study the influence of hydrodynamics on surface microplastic distribution. The outputs of the model showed the presence of a transitional convergence zone in the centre of the bay during flood tide, where floating debris coming from the northern and southern parts of the bay tends to accumulate before being expelled from the bay. Further modelling work and observations integrating (i) the complex vertical motion of microplastics, and (ii) their point sources is required to better understand the fate of microplastics in such a complex coastal ecosystem.

L. Frère, I. Paul-Pont, E. Rinnert, S. Petton, J. Jaffré, I. Bihannic, P. Soudant, C. Lambert, A. Huvet, Environmental Pollution, Volume 225, June 2017, Pages 211–222

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