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Marine plastic pollution in waters around Australia: characteristics, concentrations, and pathways.

Reisser J, Shaw J, Wilcox C, Hardesty BD, Proietti M, Thums M, Pattiaratchi C - PLoS ONE (2013)

Bottom Line: The 839 marine plastics recorded were predominantly small fragments ("microplastics", median length = 2.8 mm, mean length = 4.9 mm) resulting from the breakdown of larger objects made of polyethylene and polypropylene (e.g. packaging and fishing items).These plastics appear to be associated with a wide range of ocean currents that connect the sampled sites to their international and domestic sources, including populated areas of Australia's east coast.This study shows that plastic contamination levels in surface waters of Australia are similar to those in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Maine, but considerably lower than those found in the subtropical gyres and Mediterranean Sea.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: School of Environmental Systems Engineering, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia ; Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia ; Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Floreat, Western Australia, Australia.

ABSTRACT
Plastics represent the vast majority of human-made debris present in the oceans. However, their characteristics, accumulation zones, and transport pathways remain poorly assessed. We characterised and estimated the concentration of marine plastics in waters around Australia using surface net tows, and inferred their potential pathways using particle-tracking models and real drifter trajectories. The 839 marine plastics recorded were predominantly small fragments ("microplastics", median length = 2.8 mm, mean length = 4.9 mm) resulting from the breakdown of larger objects made of polyethylene and polypropylene (e.g. packaging and fishing items). Mean sea surface plastic concentration was 4256.4 pieces km(-2), and after incorporating the effect of vertical wind mixing, this value increased to 8966.3 pieces km(-2). These plastics appear to be associated with a wide range of ocean currents that connect the sampled sites to their international and domestic sources, including populated areas of Australia's east coast. This study shows that plastic contamination levels in surface waters of Australia are similar to those in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Maine, but considerably lower than those found in the subtropical gyres and Mediterranean Sea. Microplastics such as the ones described here have the potential to affect organisms ranging from megafauna to small fish and zooplankton.

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Mean and standard error of sea surface (Cs) and depth-integrated (Ci) plastic concentrations.Blue represents mean and standard error of Cs and red represents mean and standard error of Ci.
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pone-0080466-g006: Mean and standard error of sea surface (Cs) and depth-integrated (Ci) plastic concentrations.Blue represents mean and standard error of Cs and red represents mean and standard error of Ci.

Mentions: Relatively high mean Cs (>15500 pieces km−2) were estimated only at low wind speeds (<7 m s−1, Figure 5a). There was an inverse relationship between Cs and wind forcing (b = −0.77 in Cs = a(u*w)b), which was relatively consistent with the biophysical model applied here (Figure 5b). When taking into account the effect of wind-mixing, net tow plastic concentrations increased by a mean factor of 2.8 (range: 1.04 – 10.0, median = 1.9). Hence, the amount of plastics collected by our net tows (Cs) represents anywhere between 10.0% and 96.1% (median = 52.7%, mean ± standard deviation = 50.0±24.47%) of the estimated total amount of plastic present in the water column (Ci,Figure 6).


Marine plastic pollution in waters around Australia: characteristics, concentrations, and pathways.

Reisser J, Shaw J, Wilcox C, Hardesty BD, Proietti M, Thums M, Pattiaratchi C - PLoS ONE (2013)

Mean and standard error of sea surface (Cs) and depth-integrated (Ci) plastic concentrations.Blue represents mean and standard error of Cs and red represents mean and standard error of Ci.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3842337&req=5

pone-0080466-g006: Mean and standard error of sea surface (Cs) and depth-integrated (Ci) plastic concentrations.Blue represents mean and standard error of Cs and red represents mean and standard error of Ci.
Mentions: Relatively high mean Cs (>15500 pieces km−2) were estimated only at low wind speeds (<7 m s−1, Figure 5a). There was an inverse relationship between Cs and wind forcing (b = −0.77 in Cs = a(u*w)b), which was relatively consistent with the biophysical model applied here (Figure 5b). When taking into account the effect of wind-mixing, net tow plastic concentrations increased by a mean factor of 2.8 (range: 1.04 – 10.0, median = 1.9). Hence, the amount of plastics collected by our net tows (Cs) represents anywhere between 10.0% and 96.1% (median = 52.7%, mean ± standard deviation = 50.0±24.47%) of the estimated total amount of plastic present in the water column (Ci,Figure 6).

Bottom Line: The 839 marine plastics recorded were predominantly small fragments ("microplastics", median length = 2.8 mm, mean length = 4.9 mm) resulting from the breakdown of larger objects made of polyethylene and polypropylene (e.g. packaging and fishing items).These plastics appear to be associated with a wide range of ocean currents that connect the sampled sites to their international and domestic sources, including populated areas of Australia's east coast.This study shows that plastic contamination levels in surface waters of Australia are similar to those in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Maine, but considerably lower than those found in the subtropical gyres and Mediterranean Sea.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: School of Environmental Systems Engineering, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia ; Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia ; Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Floreat, Western Australia, Australia.

ABSTRACT
Plastics represent the vast majority of human-made debris present in the oceans. However, their characteristics, accumulation zones, and transport pathways remain poorly assessed. We characterised and estimated the concentration of marine plastics in waters around Australia using surface net tows, and inferred their potential pathways using particle-tracking models and real drifter trajectories. The 839 marine plastics recorded were predominantly small fragments ("microplastics", median length = 2.8 mm, mean length = 4.9 mm) resulting from the breakdown of larger objects made of polyethylene and polypropylene (e.g. packaging and fishing items). Mean sea surface plastic concentration was 4256.4 pieces km(-2), and after incorporating the effect of vertical wind mixing, this value increased to 8966.3 pieces km(-2). These plastics appear to be associated with a wide range of ocean currents that connect the sampled sites to their international and domestic sources, including populated areas of Australia's east coast. This study shows that plastic contamination levels in surface waters of Australia are similar to those in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Maine, but considerably lower than those found in the subtropical gyres and Mediterranean Sea. Microplastics such as the ones described here have the potential to affect organisms ranging from megafauna to small fish and zooplankton.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus