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

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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News

People’s Postcode Lottery supports New Plastics Economy initiative with PML a

PML is delighted to announce a new partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the New Plastics Economy initiative, which was announced last night as a winner of the People's Postcode Lottery (PPL) £500,000 Dream Fund at the gala event in Edinburgh. 

News

Where do all the microplastics go

Scientists call for more targeted research into interactions between marine life and microplastics.

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.

Selected key publications

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. doi:10.3354/esr00865

Galloway, TS; 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, RC; Lindeque, PK. 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, PK; Fileman, E; Halsband, C; Galloway, TS. 2014. Isolation of microplastics in biota-rich seawater samples and marine organisms. Scientific Reports, 4 (4528)

Cole, M; Lindeque, PK; Fileman, E; Halsband, C; Moger, J; Galloway, TS. 2013. Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environmental Science and Technology, 47 (12), 6646-6655

Cole, M; Lindeque, PK; Halsband, C; Galloway, TS. 2011. Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: a review. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62 (12), 2588-2597

Related recent publications

  1. Coppock, RL; Cole, M; Lindeque, PK; Queiros, AM ; Galloway, TJ. 2017 A small-scale, portable method for extracting microplastics from marine sediments. Environmental Pollution, 230. 829-837. 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.07.017
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  2. Clark, JR; Cole, MJ; Lindeque, PK; Fileman, ES; Blackford, JC; Lewis, C; Lenton, TM; Galloway, TS. 2016 Marine microplastic debris: a targeted plan for understanding and quantifying interactions with marine life. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14 (6). 317-324. 10.1002/fee.1297
    View publication

  3. Nelms, SE; Coombes, C; Foster, LC; Godley, BJ; Galloway, TSG; Lindeque, PK; Witt, MJ. 2017 Marine anthropogenic litter on British beaches: a 10-year nationwide assessment using citizen science data. STOTEN. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.11.137
    View publication

  4. Cole, M; Lindeque, PK; Fileman, ES; Clark, JR; Lewis, CN; Halsband, C; Galloway, TSG. 2016 Microplastics Alter the Properties and Sinking Rates of Zooplankton Faecal Pellets. Environmental Science & Technology. 10.1021/acs.est.5b05905
    View publication

  5. Nelms, SE; Duncan, EM; Broderick, AC; Galloway, TSG; Godfrey, MH; Hamann, M; Lindeque, PK; Godley, BJ. 2016 Plastic and marine turtles: a review and call for research. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil, 73 (2). 165-181. 10.1093/icesjms/fsv165
    View publication

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