Marine plastics

Plastic pollution is a 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

Marine plastic pollution in the Arctic
Completed

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...

The Economics of Marine Plastic Pollution: What are the Benefits of International Cooperation

The Economics of Marine Plastic Pollution: What are the Benefits of International Cooperation

Contact: Dr James Clark

The Economics of Marine Plastic Pollution: What are the Benefits of International Cooperation? project is calculating the economic costs of the...

New Plastics Economy
Completed

New Plastics Economy

Contact: Professor Melanie Austen

Plastics and plastic packaging are fundamental to industry and everyday life. They deliver many benefits, yet have a number of significant...

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Other recent news articles

News

Microplastics buried by marine animals

The presence of microplastics in the ocean is a growing concern, but there's still a lot we don't know about how marine organisms interact with them. A new study from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Exeter shows how the behaviour of animals living in sedime...

News

First successful study to detect marine plastic pollution using satellites

A pioneering technique to detect plastics floating on the sea surface, led by scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, has been published this week in Scientific Reports .

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.

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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