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

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High levels of microplastic pollution in the sediments and benthic organisms of the South Yellow Sea, China

Microplastics, emerging contaminants in the ocean, are thought to sink and accumulate in sediments, and thus may pose a potential ecological risk to benthic communities. In this study, abundances and characteristics of microplastics in sediments and benthic organisms from the South Yellow Sea were investigated. First, we optimized the sediment sampling for microplastic analysis and found that the top layer (0–5 cm) had the highest abundance, and microplastic abundances decreased significantly with increase in sediment depth. The abundance of microplastics was 560–4205 n/kg dry weight in the surface sediments (the topmost 3 cm) of 14 sites and 1.7–47.0 n/g wet weight in the tissues of benthic organisms. Moreover, microplastic abundances in sediments and benthic organisms were both positively correlated with water depth. Fibers, transparent microplastics, and small microplastics (<0.5 mm) were the most dominant types in sediments and organisms. FTIR analysis showed that polypropylene (PP, 31%), polyester (PE, 24%), nylon (19%), and polystyrene (PS, 15%) were the most abundant polymers in sediments. The results of SEM showed rough surfaces and obvious cracks on the microplastics isolated from sediments. In addition, characteristics of microplastics in Ophiura sarsii, Crangon affinis, and Acila mirabilis were compared. Our results demonstrate that a comprehensive investigation of microplastics in sediments and benthic communities will help to fully understand the ecological risk of microplastic pollution.

J. Wang, M. Wang, S. Ru and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 651, Part 2, 15 February 2019, Pages 1661-1669

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Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45–129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported. We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

L. Lebreton, B. Slat, F. Ferrari, and al., Scientific Reports, volume 8, Article number: 4666 (2018)

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Plastic pollution: Scientists identify two more potential ‘garbage patch’ zones in world’s oceans

Study attempts to locate remaining 99% of plastic unaccounted for by conventional surveys.

An attempt to locate millions of tons of “missing” plastic in the world’s oceans has thrown up two locations that may contain enormous, previously unreported patches of debris.

Plastic has risen to the top of the environmental agenda after scientists sounded the alarm about the potential impact it as having on marine life.

Best estimates suggest 10 million tons of plastic are dumped in the sea every year. (…) (Theindependent, 13/09/2018)

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Field-Based Evidence for Microplastic in Marine Aggregates and Mussels: Implications for Trophic Transfer

Marine aggregates incorporate particles from the environment, including microplastic (MP). The characteristics of MP in aggregates and the role of aggregates in linking MP with marine organisms, however, are poorly understood. To address these issues, we collected aggregates and blue mussels, Mytulis edulis, at Avery Point, CT, and analyzed samples with microspectrometers. Results indicate that over 70% of aggregates sampled harbored MP (1290 ± 1510 particles/m3). Fifteen polymer types were identified, with polypropylene, polyester and synthetic-cellulose accounting for 44.7%, 21.2% and 10.6%, respectively, of the total MP count. Over 90% of MP in aggregates were ≤1000 μm, suggesting that aggregations are a sink for this size fraction. Although size, shape, and chemical type of MP captured by mussels were representative of those found in aggregates, differences in the sizes of MP in pseudofeces, feces and digestive gland/gut were found, suggesting size-dependent particle ingestion. Over 40% of the MP particles were either rejected in pseudofeces or egested in feces. Our results are the first to identify a connection between field-collected marine aggregates and bivalves, and indicate that aggregates may play an important role in removing MP from the ocean surface and facilitating their transfer to marine food webs.

Shiye Zhao, J. Evan Ward, Meghan Danley, and Tracy J. Mincer, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, August 29, 2018

The article

Distribution of Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Aquatic Ecosystems and Their Impacts on Aquatic Organisms, with Emphasis on Microalgae

Plastics, with their many useful physical and chemical properties, are widely used in various industries and activities of daily living. Yet, the insidious effects of plastics, particularly long-term effects on aquatic organisms, are not properly understood. Plastics have been shown to degrade to micro- and nanosize particles known as microplastics and nanoplastics, respectively. These minute particles have been shown to cause various adverse effects on aquatic organisms, ranging from growth inhibition, developmental delay and altered feeding behaviour in aquatic animals to decrease of photosynthetic efficiency and induction of oxidative stress in microalgae. This review paper covers the distribution of microplastics and nanoplastics in aquatic ecosystems, focusing on their effects on microalgae as well as co-toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics with other pollutants. Besides that, this review paper also discusses future research directions which could be taken to gain a better understanding of the impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics on aquatic ecosystems.

Jun-Kit Wan, Wan-Loy Chu, Yih-Yih Kok, Choy-Sin Lee, Chapter, Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series, Springer

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Capture, swallowing, and egestion of microplastics by a planktivorous juvenile fish

Microplastics (<5 mm) have been found in many fish species, from most marine environments. However, the mechanisms underlying microplastic ingestion by fish are still unclear, although they are important to determine the pathway of microplastics along marine food webs. Here we conducted experiments in the laboratory to examine microplastic ingestion (capture and swallowing) and egestion by juveniles of the planktivorous palm ruff, Seriolella violacea (Centrolophidae). As expected, fish captured preferentially black microplastics, similar to food pellets, whereas microplastics of other colours (blue, translucent, and yellow) were mostly co-captured when floating close to food pellets. Microplastics captured without food were almost always spit out, and were only swallowed when they were mixed with food in the fish’s mouth. Food probably produced a ‘gustatory trap’ that impeded the fish to discriminate and reject the microplastics. Most fish (93% of total) egested all the microplastics after 7 days, on average, and 49 days at most, substantially longer than food pellets (<2 days). No acute detrimental effects of microplastics on fish were observable, but potential sublethal effects of microplastics on the fish physiological and behavioural responses still need to be tested. This study highlights that visually-oriented planktivorous fish, many species of which are of commercial value and ecological importance within marine food webs, are susceptible to ingest microplastics resembling or floating close to their planktonic prey.

N. C. Ory, C. Gallardo, M. Lenz, M. Thiel, Environmental Pollution, Volume 240, September 2018, Pages 566-573

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