The presence of microplastics in the oceans has been widely documented / reported by oceanographic research, but data on pollution in coastal regions are scarce due to access difficulties encountered by science ships. Researchers from the Consolidated Marine Geoscience Research Group of the Faculty of Earth Sciences UB, in collaboration with a Spanish delegation from the NGO Surfrider Foundation Europe, studied the amount and characteristics of floating plastic on Catalan coasts, thanks to a civic science initiative. from rowing boats. Results, published in an open access journal Letters on environmental researchdiscover that coastal areas contain a huge amount of plastic waste whose presence is under great spatial and temporal variability.
“The average concentrations of microplastics we found near the coast are above those previously found outside the bathing area. We found higher maximum concentrations – more than six plastics per square meter – and more frequent over time. There are also some areas and seasons. in which they are an order of magnitude higher than the averages found in the open Mediterranean and around the world, ”notes Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a lecturer and researcher at UB.
“Civil science is a useful and powerful tool for studying marine pollution, while giving citizens scientific knowledge,” says Sanchez-Vidal.
More plastic in densely populated urban areas
These large amounts of microplastics indicate, according to the authors, that “there must be processes that tend to concentrate or retain plastic near the coast.” The study provides some explanations, such as variations in meteorological and oceanographic conditions, greater impact of river flows during periods of heavy rains, and proximity to densely populated urban areas with high seasonal tourist influx, and concentrating the effect of restricted breakwater or port areas.
“Beaches like Mar Bella or Sant Sebastià in Barcelona are more sheltered from wind and waves because of these structures and can retain and accumulate more microplastics than other areas that are more exposed, indicating a longer stay,” says William P. de Haan. UB researcher and first author of the article. In that sense, the areas where researchers discovered more microplastics were the beaches of Sant Sebastià, Nova Icària and Llevant, all three in the capital of Catalonia. Furthermore, the researchers identified potential seasonality. “We noticed that areas like Llançà or Castelldefels show a lower trend in January and February, probably due to the influence of surface currents and winds that reduce floating microplastics, and a higher trend just before and after the summer months,” the researcher notes.
Finding the origins of microplastics to create better solutions
The study not only identified an abundance of microplastics, but also provided detailed characterization of the size, color, shape, and composition that can help determine the source of microplastics, which is essential to provide solutions to the growing presence of plastics in the sea. Environment. The results showed that foams and filaments derived from food packaging and fishing activities make up almost 11% of the plastic collected. However, most plastics have been identified as fragments, films, and sheets, which were probably formed by the disintegration of larger plastic pieces. “We were able to identify polyethylene films and sheets originating from bag fragmentation; fragments of polyethylene and polypropylene, of bottles or packings; fragments of expanded polystyrene used in food packaging; filaments from fishing gear, fragments of artificial grass, etc., ”says Anna Sanchez-Vidal.
This information, ranging from the physical characteristics of microplastics to the concentrations of each in the sample areas, is available on a website with several visualization tools to make these findings accessible to society.
From Llançà to l’Ametlla de Mar
In the study, researchers used samples collected by volunteers from eight Catalan entities for seven months. From Llançà to l’Ametlla de Mara, these volunteers were coordinated by the Surfrider Foundation Europe. “There has been a lot of participation, and this proves that civic science is a tool with great potential for monitoring and studying the impact of plastics on the marine environment,” says Maria Ballesteros, head of volunteering at Surfrider Spain.
These volunteers went to the beach every week or every two weeks for an hour with surfboards, kayaks and other rowing boats. They attached a net designed by researchers to collect floating microplastics larger than 0.3 millimeters. The path and coordinates of these transects were recorded on a mobile device and in the Wikiloc application to register the latitude, time, and distance of the hut. The collected plastic was then sent to a laboratory at the University of Barcelona to be analyzed by trained staff. “We were surprised by the amount of high-quality and scientifically relevant data we received in such a short time and lower budget compared to other similar scientific projects,” emphasizes Anna Sanchez-Vidal.
“Projects involving research centers and society are key to continuing to seek solutions to plastic problems in the oceans,” notes Maria Ballesteros.
Research on the Catalan and Basque coasts
The next step of this project is to analyze whether the detected trends in this study persist over time, the specific factors leading to the detected variations, and the evolution of microplastic concentrations in the short and long term.
With these goals, the civic science project will continue over the coming months. It will also extend the sampling areas to the Basque coast. “This will allow us to better understand the scattering mechanisms and characteristics of microplastics in the semi-enclosed sea in the western Mediterranean and in a relatively sparsely populated area, but with high fishing activity in the Atlantic Ocean,” concludes Anna Sanchez-Vidal.
Civic science and paddle surfing to study microplastic pollution on the Barcelona coast
William P de Haan et al., Floating microplastic loads on shore discovered through civic science, Letters on environmental research (2022). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / ac5df1
Facilitated by University of Barcelona
Quote: The Citizen Science study reveals a huge amount of microplastics in Catalan baths (2022, May 9) downloaded on May 9, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-citizen-science-vast-amount-microplastics. html
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