Monday, May 8, 2017

Microplastics in our Waters | Riverkeeper Blog

By Rachel Calabro, Save The Bay Riverkeeper

Photo: http://www.bearder.eu/microplastics
Microplastics are bits of plastic debris that are less than 5 mm in size. They are prevalent in ocean waters and on beaches where they pose a risk to marine life. Microplastics can come from break-up of large plastic that ends up in the ocean, or they can be microbeads or pellets that are manufactured. Synthetic fibers that either wash into the ocean or come from ropes and nets are also counted. These synthetic fibers often come from our polyester fleece clothing and can enter the ocean through the waste stream. Plastic microbeads first started showing up in personal care products more than 50 years ago. Their use increased until 2015, when President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act. This act calls for the phase-out of microbeads in personal care products such as toothpaste and soaps.

According to an article in the Journal of Science, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. As this plastic breaks down over time, it adds to the prevalence of tiny bits of plastic that can be ingested by marine organisms. Studies are now being done on what this plastic does to animals in terms of feeding changes, reproduction and accumulation of toxins or as a vector for pathogens. Other studies are looking at how chemicals such as flame retardants leach out of plastics or how other chemicals stick to plastics. Different types of plastics react differently when they break down or when they are subjected to digestive juices in animals. Many animals tend to eat these particles because they are covered in algae. Studies are also being done to understand the types of algae that live on microplastics.

If fish are ingesting these particles, we are too. They even show up in sea salt made from evaporated ocean water. Save The Bay is interested in how much microplastic is in the waters of Narragansett Bay. In order to learn more, we are teaming up with Clean Water Action to trawl the Bay this summer to find out how much we can collect and where in the Bay it is found. We will take that information and share it with policymakers and the public to find ways to stop plastic from entering the Bay. You can make a difference by using less plastic and making sure that what you do use gets recycled.