Microplastic and tar pollution on three Canary Islands beaches: An annual study

Marine debris accumulation was analyzed from three exposed beaches of the Canary Islands (Lambra, Famara and Las Canteras). Large microplastics (1–5 mm), mesoplastics (5–25 mm) and tar pollution were assessed twice a month for a year. There was great spatial and temporal variability in the Canary Island coastal pollution. Seasonal patterns differed at each location, marine debris concentration depended mainly of local-scale wind and wave conditions. The most polluted beach was Lambra, a remote beach infrequently visited. The types of debris found were mainly preproduction resin pellets, plastic fragments and tar, evidencing that pollution was not of local origin, but it cames from the open sea. The levels of pollution were similar to those of highly industrialized and contaminated regions. This study corroborates that the Canary Islands are an area of accumulation of microplastics and tar rafted from the North Atlantic Ocean by the southward flowing Canary Current.

A. Herrera, M. Asensio, I. Martínez, A. Santana, T. Packard, M. Gómez, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 6 November 2017, In Press

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Are we underestimating microplastic contamination in aquatic environments?

Plastic debris, specifically microplastic in the aquatic environment, is an escalating environmental crisis. Efforts at national scales to reduce or ban microplastics in personal care products are starting to pay off, but this will not affect those materials already in the environment or those that result from unregulated products and materials. To better inform future microplastic research and mitigation efforts this study (1) evaluates methods currently used to quantify microplastics in the environment and (2) characterizes the concentration and size distribution of microplastics in a variety of products. In this study, 50 published aquatic surveys were reviewed and they demonstrated that most (~80%) only account for plastics ≥ 300 μm in diameter. In addition, we surveyed 770 personal care products to determine the occurrence, concentration and size distribution of polyethylene microbeads. Particle concentrations ranged from 1.9 to 71.9 mg g−1 of product or 1649 to 31,266 particles g−1 of product. The large majority ( > 95%) of particles in products surveyed were less than the 300 μm minimum diameter, indicating that previous environmental surveys could be underestimating microplastic contamination. To account for smaller particles as well as microfibers from synthetic textiles, we strongly recommend that future surveys consider methods that materials < 300 μm in diameter.

Jeremy L. Conkle, Christian D. Báez Del Valle, Jeffrey W. Turner, Environmental Management, pp 1–8,

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Spatial variability in the concentrations of metals in beached microplastics

Heavy metals and microplastics have been considered as threats to the marine environment and the interactions between these two pollutants are poorly understood. This study investigates the interactions between metals adsorbed in pellets collected randomly from 19 beaches along the coast of São Paulo State in southeastern Brazil, comparing these levels with those in virgin pellets. The samples were analyzed for Al, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Sn, Ti and Zn by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES). The polymers were solubilized via acid digestion. The highest levels occurred with Fe (227.78 mg kg− 1 – Itaguaré) and Al (45.27 mg kg− 1 – Guaraú) in the same areas, which are closer to the Port of Santos. The metal adsorption on pellets collected is greater than that on virgin pellets. In this context, pellets can be considered to be a carrier for the transport of metals in the environment, even in small quantities.

M.C. Vedolin, C.Y.S. Teophilo, A. Turra, R.C.L. Figueira, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 13 October 2017, In Press

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Marine litter at the seafloor – Abundance and composition in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea

Litter is present in all marine waters around the globe. It consists of several compound classes of which plastic is of special interest because of its high abundance and possible threat to marine organisms. The regional distribution, composition and abundance of large litter items (LI) at the sea floor of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were investigated based on 175 bottom trawls between 2013 and 2015. Different types of marine litter > 2.5 cm were classified according to the protocol of the ICES International Bottom Trawl Survey. The results showed considerable geographical variation: In the North Sea, a mean litter abundance of 16.8 LI/km2 was found, whereas the litter abundance in the Baltic Sea was significantly lower (5.07 LI/km2). In general, plastic represented 80% of the litter items. During the study, some methodical aspects with possible impact on the results were identified that need to be addressed in future sampling campaigns.

Ulrike Kammann, Marc-Oliver Aust, Horst Bahl, Thomas Lang, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 12 October 2017, In Press

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Solutions for global marine litter pollution

Since the 1950s the amount of plastics in the marine environment has increased dramatically. Worldwide there is a growing concern about the risks and possible adverse effects of (micro)plastics. This paper reflects on the sources and effects of marine litter and the effects of policies and other actions taken worldwide. Current knowledge offers a solid basis for effective action. Yet, so far the effects of policies and other initiatives are still largely insufficient. The search for appropriate responses could be based on possible interventions and profound understanding of the context specific factors for success. Moreover, the scope, timeframe and dynamics of all initiatives are distinctly different and orchestration at all levels, in close cooperation with one another is currently lacking.</p

Ansje Löhr, Heidi Savelli, Raoul Beunen and al., Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 28, October 2017, Pages 90-99

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Risks of Plastic Debris: Unravelling Fact, Opinion, Perception, and Belief

Researcher and media alarms have caused plastic debris to be perceived as a major threat to humans and animals. However, although the waste of plastic in the environment is clearly undesirable for aesthetic and economic reasons, the actual environmental risks of different plastics and their associated chemicals remain largely unknown. Here we show how a systematic assessment of adverse outcome pathways based on ecologically relevant metrics for exposure and effect can bring risk assessment within reach. Results of such an assessment will help to respond to the current public worry in a balanced way and allow policy makers to take measures for scientifically sound reasons.

Albert A. Koelmans, Ellen Besseling, Edwin Foekema and al., Environ. Sci. Technol., Volume 51, Issue 20, Page 11513-11519, October 17, 2017

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Microplastics – a review of existing knowledge

CEH ecotoxicologist, Alice Horton, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Microplastics – what we know?’ at the CIWEM Priority Substances and Micro-Pollutants in London on September 14, 2017.

In this recording, Alice provides a primer on microplastics, then reviews existing knowledge regarding the key sources of microplastics through to environmental fate and associated ecological and human health impacts. She also provides a background to UK policy.

She then explores microplastics within freshwater environments, her specific research area, and identifies the key research questions that should be investigated. (CEH, 19/09/2017)

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