Marine plastics

Plastic pollution is growing threat to the world’s oceans, posing a serious risk to the health of marine life, ecosystems and potentially human health.

The properties of plastic that make it such an attractive material, such as durability, strength and low cost, also make it a lasting problem once it reaches the end of its useful life. Oceanic plastic pollution consists of large pieces of debris, including discarded fishing gear, bottles and plastic bags, but the most ubiquitous type of plastic debris by number are small pieces of plastic, known as microplastics.

Sources of microplastics include fibres from synthetic textiles, microbeads from cosmetics and industrial applications and larger items that have broken down over time. Microplastics are ingested by a wide range of marine organisms, including commercially exploited species destined for human consumption. Our research has highlighted that these microplastics can adversely affect the health of organisms by limiting their capacity to feed upon natural prey.

PML scientists are at the forefront of developing techniques to monitor, assess bioavailability and investigate the effects of marine microplastics on marine organisms and ecosystems.

Making a difference

plastic_bottle_(1).pngPML scientists have contributed comprehensive evidence to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into "Microplastics and the Marine Environment" and provided input into the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POSTNote) on "Marine Microplastic Pollution".

One of PML's scientists, Dr Penelope Lindeque gave a presentation to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on "The problem of microplastics in our Marine Environment?" to raise awareness of the threat that microplastics pose to the marine environment. The Committee informs members of the Houses of Parliament, scientific bodies, industry and academia on issues where science and politics meet. It also demonstrates the relevance of scientific and technological developments on matters of public interest and to the development of national policy.

The UK government has now proposed a ban on microbeads in personal care products due to come in 2018.

Projects

Bioavailability and biological effects of microscopic plastic debris in the ocean
Completed

Bioavailability and biological effects of microscopic plastic debris in the ocean

Contact: Dr Pennie Lindeque

Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic are discarded as waste, and marine plastic litter is emerging as both a threat to the oceans and a...

OPTIMAL
Completed

Optical Methods for Marine Litter detection (OPTIMAL)

Contact: Dr Victor Martinez-Vicente

Marine litter consists predominantly of plastics and is an increasing global concern because of its worldwide distribution and its impacts on the...

Marine plastic pollution in the Arctic

Marine plastic pollution in the Arctic

Contact: Dr Nicola Beaumont

Plastic waste is an emergent pollutant in the Arctic affecting marine and coastal ecosystems and associated ecosystem services that contribute to...

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You may be interested in...

News

Proof of fish larvae eating plastics at sea

PML scientists and colleagues from Plymouth University have verified and pictured examples of fish larvae ingestion of microplastics, including fibres, in the ocean.

News

First evidence that seals can consume microplastics via their prey

​Microplastics can transfer up the food chain from fish to top predators, such as seals, reveals new research by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), University of Exeter and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary.

News

Moving forward with microplastics research

Microplastics have been recorded in a range of zooplankton species, and they are already causing problems for these tiny - but vitally important - animals, even before the plastic particles make their way through the food web. A new review suggests that, to further our unde...

Selected key publications

   

Duncan, E.M., Botterell, Z.L.R., Broderick, A.C., Galloway, T.S., Lindeque, P.K., Nuno, A, Godley, B.J. 2017 A global review of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris: a baseline for further action. Endangered Species Research 34, 431-448. doi: 10.3354/esr00865

   

Galloway, T.S., Cole, M., Lewis, C. 2017. Interactions of microplastic debris throughout the marine ecosystem. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1, art:0116. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0116

   

Steer, M., Cole, M., Thompson, R.C., Lindeque, P.K. 2017. Microplastic ingestion in fish larvae in the western English Channel. Environmental Pollution, 226, 25-259. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.03.062

   

Cole, M. 2016. A novel method for preparing microplastic fibers. Scientific Reports 6, 34519; doi: 10.1038/srep34519
 

   

Cole, M., Webb, H., Lindeque, P.K., Fileman, E. Halsband, C., Galloway, T.S. 2014. Isolation of microplastics in biota-rich seawater samples and marine organisms. Scientific Reports, 4 (4528). doi: 10.1038/srep04528

   

Cole, M., Lindeque, P.K., Fileman, E., Halsband, C., Moger, J., Galloway, T.S. 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environmental Science and Technology, 47 (12), 6646-6655. doi: 10.1021/es400663f

   

Cole, M., Lindeque, P.K., Halsband, C., Galloway, T.S. 2011. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62 (12), 2588-2597. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.09.025

Related recent publications

  1. Botterell, ZLR; Beaumont, NJ; Dorrington, T; Steinke, M; Thompson, RC; Lindeque, PK. 2019 Bioavailability and effects of microplastics on marine zooplankton: A review. Environmental Pollution, 245. 98-110. 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.065
    View publication

  2. Karbalaei, S; Hanachi, P; Walker, TR; Cole, MJ. 2018 Occurrence, sources, human health impacts and mitigation of microplastic pollution. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 10.1007/s11356-018-3508-7
    View publication

  3. Bulleri, F; Eriksson, BK; Queiros, AM ; Airoldi, L; Arenas, F; Arvanitidis, C; Bouma, TJ; Crowe, TP; Davoult, D; Guizien, K; Iveša, L; Jenkins, SR; Michalet, R; Olabarria, C; Procaccini, G; Serrão, EA; Wahl, M; Benedetti-Cecchi, L. 2018 Harnessing positive species interactions as a tool against climate-driven loss of coastal biodiversity. PLOS Biology, 16 (9). e2006852. 10.1371/journal.pbio.2006852
    View publication

  4. Setala, O; Lehtiniemi, M; Coppock, RL; Cole, MJ. 2018 Microplastics in marine food webs. In: Zeng, Eddy Y, (ed.) Microplastic Contamination in Aquatic Environments: An Emerging Matter of Environmental Urgency. Elsevier.
    View publication

  5. Duncan, EM; Botterell, ZLR; Broderick, AC; Galloway, TS; Lindeque, PK; Nuno, A; Godley, BJ. 2017 A global review of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris: a baseline for further action. Endangered Species Research, 34. 431-448. 10.3354/esr00865
    View publication

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