Download our free fact sheet for more information on microplastics
Microplastics represent approximately 92.4% of the global particle count of plastic litter (Eriksen et al., 2014). These small plastic items (less than 5mm in size) are entering the marine environment and adding pressure to an already vulnerable system. At A Rocha, we want to see the ocean teeming with living things, not with our rubbish. We want to see transformation in how we humans interact with the seas on which we are so dependant. Our programme uses and participates in the latest scientific research and theological thinking to inform education, advocacy and conservation on a global scale.
There are two types of sources of microplastics: primary and secondary. Primary sources are those where microplastics are manufactured in their ‘micro’ size. These include leaks of the small plastic pellets – or “nurdles” – that act as the base material for plastic production from the industry, synthetic fibres from clothes washed out by the washing machine and the microbeads found in many cosmetic products (face scrubs etc.), household cleaning products and even toothpastes! Not all of these are removed by wastewater treatment processes so they are released into waterways and oceans. Check out our partner Beat the Microbead’s website for information on how to make ocean-friendly product choices. Secondary sources arise from the breakdown of larger plastic waste: carrier bags, product packaging, fishing equipment.
The presence of microplastic particles in the marine environment could have a number of implications. From transporting microorganisms which colonise their surfaces to new places where they might be harmful to changing properties of sediment, we are only beginning to understand how harmful they are to the marine environment. Better researched is their ability to be easily ingested by marine organisms. Fish and seabirds can mistake microplastics for prey, while filter feeders like mussels and whales filter them from the water alongside particles of food. In this way they can also enter the diet of both birds and people, who eat the animals who have eaten the plastics. Plastics often contain chemicals to give them specific properties, which in many cases are toxic. These can be released inside the animal, causing problems additional to the physical risks of blocked digestion and other internal damage.
The A Rocha team is working on creating a manual which will allow groups to assess microplastic pollution on their local beaches and waterways, equip them to advocate against plastic pollution and provide educational materials to spread the word even further. The manual is being developed in the Camargue region of France, which surrounds one of the biggest inflows into the Mediterranean Sea – the river Rhone. Here, scientists and volunteers are collecting samples.
Explore our Microplastics Toolbox – now available!
We support the UN’s goal to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution, including marine debris, by 2025 (Photo by Kevin Krejci)
Mussels and other shellfish have been found to accumulate microplastic particles from the water. There might be more in that plate of mussels than you bargained for…
Marine animals cannot digest plastic. Plastic items often remain in the stomach for life, or worse, pass into the intestines where they can cause blockages. It’s hard to imagine how this albatross would have ever managed to eat a proper meal with its stomach full of all this! (Photo credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program)