The world’s oceans are littered with plastic debris. With the 1997 discovery of staggering amounts of plastic collecting in the Pacific Ocean and North Atlantic gyres emerged the question of what happens to these plastics as they break down, since plastic particles have a very long residence time in the environment. Ingestion of plastic fragments can affect all levels of the food chain from tiny zooplankton to filter feeders to mammals. Once ingested, the particles have the potential to move up the food chain and magnify via trophic transfer and bioaccumulation, risking the health of marine mammals, fish, birds, and humans. The elements added during the manufacture of plastics, such as plasticizers and Bisphenol-A, which are used to make products more flexible or durable, disassociate from the plastic fragments and leach into the environment. Because of their ability to adsorb and concentrate contaminants such as PAHs, PCBs, DDT and PBDEs from the marine environment, microplastics may be even more harmful to marine biota than first imagined.
Microplastics are present in the Gulf of Maine and North Atlantic Ocean. But can they also be found closer to shore? In a year-long pilot study, MERI researchers and students will be testing a variety of techniques for sampling and counting microplastics abundance in Blue Hill Bay.
Sea Grant funds: $2,565