Microplastic ingestion in fish larvae in the western English Channel

Microplastics have been documented in marine environments worldwide, where they pose a potential risk to biota. Environmental interactions between microplastics and lower trophic organisms are poorly understood. Coastal shelf seas are rich in productivity but also experience high levels of microplastic pollution. In these habitats, fish have an important ecological and economic role. In their early life stages, planktonic fish larvae are vulnerable to pollution, environmental stress and predation. Here we assess the occurrence of microplastic ingestion in wild fish larvae. Fish larvae and water samples were taken across three sites (10, 19 and 35 km from shore) in the western English Channel from April to June 2016. We identified 2.9% of fish larvae (n = 347) had ingested microplastics, of which 66% were blue fibres; ingested microfibers closely resembled those identified within water samples. With distance from the coast, larval fish density increased significantly (P < 0.05), while waterborne microplastic concentrations (P < 0.01) and incidence of ingestion decreased. This study provides baseline ecological data illustrating the correlation between waterborne microplastics and the incidence of ingestion in fish larvae.

Madeleine Steer, Matthew Cole, Richard C. Thompson, Penelope K. Lindeque, Environmental Pollution, Volume 226, July 2017, Pages 250–259

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Marine anthropogenic litter on British beaches: A 10-year nationwide assessment using citizen science data

Growing evidence suggests that anthropogenic litter, particularly plastic, represents a highly pervasive and persistent threat to global marine ecosystems. Multinational research is progressing to characterise its sources, distribution and abundance so that interventions aimed at reducing future inputs and clearing extant litter can be developed. Citizen science projects, whereby members of the public gather information, offer a low-cost method of collecting large volumes of data with considerable temporal and spatial coverage. Furthermore, such projects raise awareness of environmental issues and can lead to positive changes in behaviours and attitudes. We present data collected over a decade (2005–2014 inclusive) by Marine Conservation Society (MCS) volunteers during beach litter surveys carried along the British coastline, with the aim of increasing knowledge on the composition, spatial distribution and temporal trends of coastal debris. Unlike many citizen science projects, the MCS beach litter survey programme gathers information on the number of volunteers, duration of surveys and distances covered. This comprehensive information provides an opportunity to standardise data for variation in sampling effort among surveys, enhancing the value of outputs and robustness of findings. We found that plastic is the main constituent of anthropogenic litter on British beaches and the majority of traceable items originate from land-based sources, such as public littering. We identify the coast of the Western English Channel and Celtic Sea as experiencing the highest relative litter levels. Increasing trends over the 10-year time period were detected for a number of individual item categories, yet no statistically significant change in total (effort-corrected) litter was detected. We discuss the limitations of the dataset and make recommendations for future work. The study demonstrates the value of citizen science data in providing insights that would otherwise not be possible due to logistical and financial constraints of running government-funded sampling programmes on such large scales.

SE Nelms, C Coombes, LC Foster, TS Galloway, BJ Godley, PK Lindeque, MJ Witt, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 579, 1 February 2017, Pages 1399–1409

The article

The English Channel: Contamination status of its transitional and coastal waters

The chemical contamination (organic compounds, metals, radionuclides, microplastics, nutrients) of English Channel waters has been reviewed, focussing on the sources, concentrations and impacts. River loads were only reliable for Pb, whereas atmospheric loads appeared robust for Cd, Pb, Hg, PCB-153 and γ-HCH. Temporal trends in atmospheric inputs were decreasing. Contaminant concentrations in biota were relatively constant or decreasing, but not for Cd, Hg and HBCDD, and deleterious impacts on fish and copepods were reported. However, data on ecotoxicological effects were generally sparse for legacy and emerging contaminants. Intercomparison of activity concentrations of artificial radionuclides in sediments and biota on both Channel coasts was hindered by differences in methodological approaches. Riverine phosphate loads decreased with time, while nitrate loads remained uniform. Increased biomass of algae, attributable to terrestrial inputs of nutrients, has affected benthic production and shellfisheries. A strategic approach to the identification of contaminant impacts on marine biota is recommended.

A.D. Tappin, G.E. Millward, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 95, Issue 2, Pages 529–550, 30 June 2015

The article

Occurrence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of pelagic and demersal fish from the English Channel

Microplastics are present in marine habitats worldwide and laboratory studies show this material can be ingested, yet data on abundance in natural populations is limited. This study documents microplastics in 10 species of fish from the English Channel. 504 Fish were examined and plastics found in the gastrointestinal tracts of 36.5%. All five pelagic species and all five demersal species had ingested plastic. Of the 184 fish that had ingested plastic the average number of pieces per fish was 1.90 ± 0.10. A total of 351 pieces of plastic were identified using FT-IR Spectroscopy; polyamide (35.6%) and the semi-synthetic cellulosic material, rayon (57.8%) were most common. There was no significant difference between the abundance of plastic ingested by pelagic and demersal fish. Hence, microplastic ingestion appears to be common, in relatively small quantities, across a range of fish species irrespective of feeding habitat. Further work is needed to establish the potential consequences.

A.L. Lusher a, M. McHugh b, R.C. Thompson, Marine Poll. Bulletin, Volume 67, Issues 1–2, 15 February 2013, Pages 94–99

The article