Small microplastics as a main contributor to plastic mass balance in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre

Estimates of cumulative plastic inputs into the oceans are expressed in hundred million tons, whereas the total mass of microplastics afloat at sea is three orders of magnitude below this. This large gap is evidence of our ignorance about the fate of plastics, as well as transformations and sinks in the oceans. One of the current challenges consists of identifying and quantifying plastic particles at the microscale, the small microplastics (SMP, 25-1000 µm). The aim of the present study is to investigate SMP count and mass density at the sea surface in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre during the sea campaign Expedition 7th Continent. After isolation, SMP were characterized by micro-Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. Microplastic distribution was modeled by a wind-driven vertical mixing correction model taking into account individual particle properties (dimension, shape and density). We demonstrate that SMP buoyancy is significantly decreased compared to the large microplastics (LMP, 1-5 mm) and consequently more susceptible to vertical transport. The uncorrected LMP count density was between 13 000 and 174 000 pieces km-2, and was between 5 to 170 times more abundant for SMP. With a wind-driven vertical mixing correction, we estimated that SMP were 300 to 70 000 times more abundant than LMP. When discussing this in terms of weight after correction, LMP densities were between 50 to 1 000 g km-2, and SMP densities were between 5 and 14 000 g km-2.

Marie POULAIN, Matthieu J Mercier, Laurent Brach, Marion Martignac, Corinne Routaboul, Emile Perez, Marie Christine Desjean, and Alexandra ter Halle, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, December 21, 2018
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Distribution and composition of floating macro litter off the Azores archipelago and Madeira (NE Atlantic) using opportunistic surveys

The distribution and composition of macro litter floating around oceanic islands is poorly known, especially in the North Atlantic. Due to its isolated location at the fringe of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, the Azores archipelago has recently been proposed as a potential retention zone for floating litter. To further investigate this assumption, opportunistic surveys from pole-and-line tuna fishing boats were performed from 2015 to 2017 to document (1) the distribution and (2) the composition of the floating macro litter present off the Azores and Madeira islands. Among the 2406 visual transects, 482 floating debris were recorded and were mainly composed of general plastic user items (48%), plastic packaging (21%) and derelict fishing gears (18%). Average number of debris per transect was 0.19 ± 0.5, with a total number ranging between 0 and 5 items per transect. For the majority of transects (84%), no debris was observed, 13% of the transects contained a single item, and only 3% contained more than one item. Although debris between 2.5 and 5 cm were recorded, 93% of the debris were larger than 5 cm. The GLMs showed strong effect of the observer (p < 0.001) and the standardized densities accounting for the observer bias were higher (1.39 ± 0.14 items.km-2) than the observed densities (0.78 ± 0.07 items.km−2). Debris densities were however relatively low and tended to aggregate around the Central group of the Azores (standardized mean: 0.90 ± 0.20 items.km−2). Our findings therefore suggest that most of the debris might originate from far away land-based sources and from fishing activities. This study highlights the potential of fisheries observer programs to obtain cost-effective information on floating macro debris that are essential to support the implementation of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

P. Chambault, F. Vandeperre, M. MAchete and al., Marine Environmental Research, Volume 141, October 2018, Pages 225-232

The article

Microplastic pollution on Caribbean beaches in the Lesser Antilles

Here we investigate microplastics contamination on beaches of four islands of the Lesser Antilles (Anguilla, St. Barthélemy, St. Eustatius and St. Martin/Maarten). These islands are close to the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, which contains high levels of microplastics. On average 261 ± 6 microplastics/kg of dry sand were found, with a maximum of 620 ± 96 microplastics on Grandes Cayes, Saint Martin. The vast majority of these microplastics (>95%) were fibers. Levels of microplastics differed among islands, with significantly lower levels found in St. Eustatius compared to the other Islands. No difference in microplastic levels was found between windward and leeward beaches. Our research provides a detailed study on microplastics on beaches in the Lesser Antilles. These results are important in developing a deeper understanding of the extent of the microplastic challenge within the Caribbean region, a hotspot of biodiversity.

Thijs Bosker, Lucia Guaita, Paul Behrens, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 133, August 2018, Pages 442–447

The article

Plastic pollution in islands of the Atlantic Ocean

Marine plastic pollution is present in all oceans, including remote oceanic islands. Despite the increasing number of articles on plastic pollution in the last years, there is still a lack of studies in islands, that are biodiversity hotspots when compared to the surrounding ocean, and even other recognized highly biodiverse marine environments. Articles published in the peer reviewed literature (N = 20) were analysed according to the presence of macro (>5 mm) and microplastics (<5 mm) on beaches and the marine habitats immediately adjacent to 31 islands of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The first articles date from the 1980s, but most were published in the 2000s. Articles on macroplastics were predominant in this review (N = 12). Beaches were the most studied environment, possibly due to easy access. The main focus of most articles was the spatial distribution of plastics associated with variables such as position of the beach in relation to wind and currents. Very few studies have analysed plastics colonization by organisms or the identification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Islands of the North/South Atlantic and Caribbean Sea were influenced by different sources of macroplastics, being marine-based sources (i.e., fishing activities) predominant in the Atlantic Ocean basin. On the other hand, in the Caribbean Sea, land-based sources were more common.

Raqueline C. P. Monteiro, Juliana A. Ivar do Sul, Monica F. Costa, Environmental Pollution, Volume 238, July 2018, Pages 103–110

The article

Nanoplastic in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre

Plastics can be found in all ecosystems across the globe. This type of environmental pollution is important, even if its impact is not fully understood. The presence of small plastic particles at the micro- and nanoscales is of growing concern, but nanoplastic has not yet been observed in natural samples. In this study, we examined four size fractions (meso-, large micro-, small micro-, and nanoplastics) of debris collected in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. To obtain the nanoplastic portion, we isolated the colloidal fraction of seawater. After ultrafiltration, the occurrence of nanoscale particles was demonstrated using dynamic light scattering experiments. The chemical fingerprint of the colloids was obtained by pyrolysis coupled with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. We demonstrated that the signal was anthropogenic and attributed to a combination of plastics. The polymer composition varied among the size classes. At the micro- and nanoscales, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and polyethylene were observed. We also observed changes in the pyrolytic signals of polyethylene with decreasing debris size, which could be related to the structural modification of this plastic as a consequence of weathering.

Alexandra Ter Halle, Laurent Jeanneau, Marion Martignac, Emilie Jardé, Boris Pedrono, Laurent Brach and Julien Gigault, Environ. Sci. Technol., 51 (23), pp 13689–13697, 2017

Factors influencing the microplastic contamination of bivalves from the French Atlantic coast: Location, season and/or mode of life?

Monitoring the presence of microplastics (MP) in marine organisms is currently of high importance. This paper presents the qualitative and quantitative MP contamination of two bivalves from the French Atlantic coasts: the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas). Three factors potentially influencing the contamination were investigated by collecting at different sampling sites and different seasons, organisms both wild and cultivated. Inter- and intra-species comparisons were also achieved. MP quantity in organisms was evaluated at 0.61 ± 0.56 and 2.1 ± 1.7 MP per individual respectively for mussels and oysters. Eight different polymers were identified. Most of the MPs were fragments; about a half of MPs were grey colored and a half with a size ranging from 50 to 100 μm for both studied species. Some inter-specific differences were found but no evidence for sampling site, season or mode of life effect was highlighted.

Nam Ngoc Phuong, Laurence Poirier, Quoc Tuan Pham, Fabienne Lagarde, atlAurore Zalouk-Vergnoux, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 26 October 2017, In Press

The article

Microplastic pollution identified in deep-sea water and ingested by benthic invertebrates in the Rockall Trough, North Atlantic Ocean

Microplastics are widespread in the natural environment and present numerous ecological threats. While the ultimate fate of marine microplastics are not well known, it is hypothesized that the deep sea is the final sink for this anthropogenic contaminant. This study provides a quantification and characterisation of microplastic pollution ingested by benthic macroinvertebrates with different feeding modes (Ophiomusium lymani, Hymenaster pellucidus and Colus jeffreysianus) and in adjacent deep water > 2200 m, in the Rockall Trough, Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Despite the remote location, microplastic fibres were identified in deep-sea water at a concentration of 70.8 particles m−3, comparable to that in surface waters. Of the invertebrates examined (n = 66), 48% ingested microplastics with quantities enumerated comparable to coastal species. The number of ingested microplastics differed significantly between species and generalized linear modelling identified that the number of microplastics ingested for a given tissue mass was related to species and not organism feeding mode or the length or overall weight of the individual. Deep-sea microplastics were visually highly degraded with surface areas more than double that of pristine particles. The identification of synthetic polymers with densities greater and less than seawater along with comparable quantities to the upper ocean indicates processes of vertical re-distribution. This study presents the first snapshot of deep ocean microplastics and the quantification of microplastic pollution in the Rockall Trough. Additional sampling throughout the deep-sea is required to assess levels of microplastic pollution, vertical transportation and sequestration, which have the potential to impact the largest global ecosystem.

Winnie Courtene-Jones, Brian Quinn, Stefan F. Gary, Andrew O.M. Mogg, Bhavani E. Narayanaswamy, Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 271-280

The article