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


Spatial distribution of marine debris on the seafloor of Moroccan waters

Marine debris pollution is considered as a worldwide problem and a direct threat to the environment, economy and human health. In this paper, we provide the first quantitative assessment of debris on the seafloor of the southern part of the economic exclusive waters of Morocco. The data were collected in a scientific trawl survey carried out from 5 to 25 October 2014 between (26N) to (21N) covering different stratums of depths (from 10 to 266 m) and following a sampling network of 100 stations distributed randomly in the study area. A total of 603 kg of debris was collected and sorted into five main categories: plastic, metal, rubber, textiles and glass. Over 50% of collected items was made by plastic, 94% of them are the plastic fishing gear used to capture the Octopus vulgaris. The analysis of the distribution shows that anthropogenic debris is present in the majority of the prospected area (∼ 47,541 km2) with different densities ranging from 0 to 1768 (± 298,15) kg/km2. The spatial autocorrelation approach using GIS shows that the concentration of this debris is correlated very well with a set of factors such as the proximity to fishing activity sites. Moreover, the mechanism of transportation and dispersion was influenced by the hydrodynamic properties of the region.

S. Loulad, R. Houssa, H Rhinane and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 24 July 2017, In Press, Corrected Proof

The article

Strandings of NE Atlantic gorgonians

Northeast coral gardens provide vital breeding and feeding habitats for fishes of conservation and commercial importance. Such habitats are increasingly at risk of destruction as a result of over fishing, ocean warming, acidification and marine litter.

A key cause for concern regarding the vulnerability of coral gardens to damage from any source is their slow growth rate, and thereby their ability to recover from damage. Hence protected areas are being put in place, which exclude the use of towed demersal fishing gear.

Citizen scientists observed that gorgonian coral (Pink Sea Fans) skeletons were stranding on beaches entangled in marine debris (sea fangles) across southwest England. Further, SCUBA divers reported that gorgonian corals were being caught up and damaged in lost fishing gear and other marine litter.

To determine the cause of the damage to coral gardens, sea fangles were collected and analysed.

The sea fangles were made up of a diverse range of litter from fishing and domestic sources, however, the majority comprised of fishing gear (P < 0.05).

Marine Protected Areas can protect coral gardens from direct fishing pressure, but risks still remain from ghost fishing pressure, demonstrating the need for sources of litter into the environment to be reduced and existing litter removed.

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) outlines targets for marine litter by 2020. This study highlights the importance of adhering to the MSFD and/or creating more ambitious regulation if the UK re-write existing legislation following BREXIT.

E.V. Sheehan, A. Rees, D. Bridger, T. Williams, J.M. Hall-Spencer, Biological Conservation, Volume 209, May 2017, Pages 482–487

The article

The uptake of macroplastic & microplastic by demersal & pelagic fish in the Northeast Atlantic around Scotland

This study reports plastic ingestion in various fish found from coastal and offshore sites in Scottish marine waters. Coastal samples consisted of three demersal flatfish species (n = 128) collected from the East and West coasts of Scotland. Offshore samples consisted of 5 pelagic species and 4 demersal species (n = 84) collected from the Northeast Atlantic. From the coastal fish sampled, 47.7% of the gastrointestinal tracts contained macroplastic and microplastic. Of the 84 pelagic and demersal offshore fish, only 2 (2.4%) individuals from different species had ingested plastic identified as a clear polystyrene fibre and a black polyamide fibre. The average number of plastic items found per fish from all locations that had ingested plastic was 1.8 (± 1.7) with polyamide (65.3%), polyethylene terephthalate (14.4%) and acrylic (14.4%) being the three most commonly found plastics. This study adds to the existing data on macroplastic and microplastic ingestion in fish species.

Fionn Murphy, Marie Russell, Ciaran Ewins, Brian Quinn, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 122 (1-2), 15 September 2017

The article

Risk assessment reveals high exposure of sea turtles to marine debris in French Mediterranean and metropolitan Atlantic waters

Debris impact on marine wildlife has become a major issue of concern. Mainy species have been identified as being threatened by collision, entanglement or ingestion of debris, generally plastics, which constitute the predominant part of the recorded marine debris. Assessing sensitive areas, where exposure to debris are high, is thus crucial, in particular for sea turtles which have been proposed as sentinels of debris levels for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and for the Unep-MedPol convention. Our objective here was to assess sea turtle exposure to marine debris in the 3 metropolitan French fronts. Using aerial surveys performed in the Channel, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean regions in winter and summer 2011–2012, we evaluated exposure areas and magnitude in terms of spatial overlap, encounter probability and density of surrounding debris at various spatial scales. Major overlapping areas appeared in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fronts, concerning mostly the leatherback and the loggerhead turtles respectively. The probability for individuals to be in contact with debris (around 90% of individuals within a radius of 2 km) and the density of debris surrounding individuals (up to 16 items with a radius of 2 km, 88 items within a radius of 10 km) were very high, whatever the considered spatial scale, especially in the Mediterranean region and during the summer season. The comparison of the observed mean debris density with random distribution suggested that turtles selected debris areas. This may occur if both debris and turtles drift to the same areas due to currents, if turtles meet debris accidentally by selecting high food concentration areas, and/or if turtles actively seek debris out, confounding them with their preys. Various factors such as species-specific foraging strategies or oceanic features which condition the passive diffusion of debris, and sea turtles in part, may explain spatio-temporal variations in sensitive areas. Further research on exposure to debris is urgently needed. Empirical data on sea turtles and debris distributions, such as those collected aerially, are essential to better identify the location and the factors determining risks.

Gaëlle Darmon, Claude Miaud, Françoise Claro, Ghislain Doremus, François Galgani, Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, Volume 141, July 2017, Pages 319-328

The article

Plastic ingestion in oceanic-stage loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) off the North Atlantic subtropical gyre

Juvenile oceanic-stage sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to the increasing quantity of plastic coming into the oceans. In this study, we analysed the gastrointestinal tracts of 24 juvenile oceanic-stage loggerheads (Caretta caretta) collected off the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, in the Azores region, a key feeding ground for juvenile loggerheads. Twenty individuals were found to have ingested marine debris (83%), composed exclusively of plastic items (primarily polyethylene and polypropylene) identified by μ-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. Large microplastics (1–5 mm) represented 25% of the total number of debris and were found in 58% of the individuals sampled. Average number of items was 15.83 ± 6.09 (± SE) per individual, corresponding to a mean dry mass of 1.07 ± 0.41 g. The results of this study demonstrate that plastic pollution acts as another stressor for this critical life stage of loggerhead turtles in the North Atlantic.

Christopher K. Pham, Yasmina Rodríguez, Axelle Dauphin and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 121 (1-2), 15 August 2017

The article

Plastics in the North Atlantic garbage patch: A boat-microbe for hitchhikers and plastic degraders

Plastic is a broad name given to different polymers with high molecular weight that impact wildlife. Their fragmentation leads to a continuum of debris sizes (meso to microplastics) entrapped in gyres and colonized by microorganisms. In the present work, the structure of eukaryotes, bacteria and Archaea was studied by a metabarcoding approach, and statistical analysis associated with network building was used to define a core microbiome at the plastic surface. Most of the bacteria significantly associated with the plastic waste originated from non-marine ecosystems, and numerous species can be considered as hitchhikers, whereas others act as keystone species (e.g., Rhodobacterales, Rhizobiales, Streptomycetales and Cyanobacteria) in the biofilm. The chemical analysis provides evidence for a specific colonization of the polymers. Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria significantly dominated mesoplastics consisting of poly(ethylene terephthalate) and polystyrene. Polyethylene was also dominated by these bacterial classes and Actinobacteria. Microplastics were made of polyethylene but differed in their crystallinity, and the majorities were colonized by Betaproteobacteria. Our study indicated that the bacteria inhabiting plastics harboured distinct metabolisms from those present in the surrounding water. For instance, the metabolic pathway involved in xenobiotic degradation was overrepresented on the plastic surface.

Debroas Didier, Mone Anne, Ter Halle Alexandra, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 599–600, 1 December 2017, Pages 1222–1232

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