Scientists say Microplastics are a Macro Problem

Plastic pollution is a growing concern shared by scientists and people across the world. Within the last few years, ecological and environmental researchers are shifting their concern toward a plastic-related problem that cannot be easily seen by the human eye. Researchers from the NCEAS’ Working Group “Marine debris: Scale and impact of trash in ocean ecosystems” offer their perspective on microplastics in the ocean published in Science.
"My collaboration on this piece with Richard Thompson would not have occurred without our previous collaboration in the working group, and much of the content of the piece was informed by our work at NCEAS," said Dr. Kara Lavender Law, principal investigator, Sea Education Association and lead for the NCEAS Working Group on marine debris. Dr. Richard Thompson is a professor at Plymouth University and presenter at last month’s Our Oceans Conference hosted by Secretary of State, John Kerry. The NCEAS Marine Debris Working Group was sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. 
Microplastics are characterized as plastics measuring at most 5 millimeters in diameter and are more commonly found in fragments spanning 20 micrometers across. Like much larger plastics, microplastics are made out of oil and debris material floating in the ocean readily accumulates harmful chemicals like dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). While scientists know about the chemical properties and hazards that plastics pose when ingested by mammals, fish, and invertebrates, there is still a lot to learn about microplastics including its effects on marine organisms, marine ecosystems, and human health. 
The sources of these tiny plastic particles are from the fragmentation of larger particles carried by rivers or runoff, cargo spill, and remnants of fishing and aquaculture; as well as smaller plastics passed through wastewater treatment such as cosmetic beads and clothing fibers. NCEAS scientists suggest identifying and eliminating major inputs of plastic waste is a more promising route to curb pollution since sustainably removing microplastics from the ocean is not feasible.
“The recent Science Perspective is a testament to the value of fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration under the NCEAS umbrella. The new insights that emerge from these kinds of Working Groups will be increasingly important in developing actionable solutions to the environmental challenges that lie before us, including the threat of plastic to ocean health,”  says George Leonard, chief scientist, Ocean Conservancy. 
Microplastics in the seas.
Kara Lavender Law and Richard C. Thompson
Science 11 July 2014: (6193), 144-145. [DOI:10.1126/science.1254065]

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Posted on July 29, 2014