Microplastics impacting Gulf waters


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Agriculture & Climate change, Australia (Commonwealth Union) – The common use of plastic for shopping, electrical items in just about everything has created a serious environmental hurdle. Microplastics are the tinier components of macro plastics which are a significant environmental problem which can enter the food chain via ingestion by fish in oceans and rivers and by animals on land.

Many researchers and marine biologist have drawn their attention to this issue with research aimed at tackling the impact of microplastic pollution, many beach clean ups have been arranged in recent years with volunteers keen to contribute and raise awareness on the issue, however the clean-up of microplastic deep inside the ocean is more complex and costly requiring specialized divers.

Plastic pollution has been identified in 8 freshwater streams running into Gulf St Vincent, leading to the verification of the regular flow of microplastics to the local marine atmosphere, with the requirement for improved waste management.

Researchers at Flinders University noted that microplastics consisting of textile fibers (72 percent), fragments (17 percent) and cosmetic beads (8 percent) in samples from the 7 major catchment locations in metropolitan Adelaide the capital of the state of South Australia, where Onkaparinga River, Pedler Creek, Christie Creek, Field River, Sturt River, Brownhill Creek, Torrens River – and Magazine Wetland at an average abundance of 6.4 ± 5.5 particles a liter, ranging from 1.2 to 30 particles at various areas.

Professor Sophie Leterme, from the Institute of NanoScale Science and Technology at Flinders University indicated that having up to 80 percent of the entire marine plastic pollution arriving from land-based sources, the study brings up concerns regarding the ongoing effects of elevated microplastics in coastal waters.

“Decades of poor waste management has underpinned mass plastic pollution around the world, and this study confirms the presence of microplastics in all the studied freshwater streams in Adelaide.”

Together with freshwater streams, researchers indicate that stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment plant discharge and environmental transport are other pathways where microplastics transfer from land to coastal marine environments, to where human food sources are much in demand as a result of commercial and recreational fishers.

Even though improved waste management is vital to minimize the breakdown and release of plastics to waterways, the Flinders researchers noted that waste management facilities are situated within 1km of the Pedler, Onkaparinga, Christie, Brownhill and Magazine waterways. The downstream sampling brought about the counting of microplastics in the size range of 20 μm–5 mm, a wider size range of microplastics in comparison to other studies.

“This study provides a baseline understanding of the microplastic load entering the Gulf St Vincent, and hopefully this will be a beneficial step in the process to understand the impacts microplastics are having in the marine waters of our state,” said Elise Tuuri, who was co-author from the Plankton and Marine Microbiology Lab at Flinders.

High and low seasonal water flows need to be considered as well in future waste management programs, according to conclusions made in the Flinders University article published in Science of the Total Environment.

Plastic makes up 85 percent of all marine litter. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) forecasts that the quantity of plastic in the ocean will nearly triple by 2040, with 23 million going into to 37 million tonnes more waste each year.

“The vast majority of mismanaged plastic waste that originates on land eventually ends up in rivers and is churned out into oceans,” said Steve Fletcher, who is studying ocean policy and economy at the University of Portsmouth, UK, and works with UNEP on plastic issues.

The economic hurdle of plastic pollution to society, which include atmospheric clean-up and ecosystem degradation, goes over US$100 billion a year, according to the philanthropic Minderoo Foundation in Australia.


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