Researching microplastics

Sampling beach sand to assess pollution in Florida

Subject: Microplastics sampling
Location: Brevard County, Florida
Leader: Dr Bob Sluka

Plastic pollution in a protected area

Canaveral National Seashore is an iconic stretch of coastal habitat on Florida’s east coast. Despite federal protection of the seashore, pollution occurs on these beaches both by users and washing up from the sea. Litter clean-ups deal with a significant portion of the plastic pollution. However, left behind and at this time essentially impossible to clean are microplastics – plastic less than 5mm in size. In order to understand and motivate change in behavior related to plastic use, it is necessary to first understand the distribution, abundance and type of microplastics which occur in a particular place. Florida A Rocha is therefore studying the seasonal dynamics of microplastic pollution in Canaveral National Seashore.

Different seasons, different microplastics abundances

Few studies have examined microplastics pollution in Canaveral National Seashore and these have focused on very few samples. Florida A Rocha began sampling in 2019. We collect samples by sieving five 50 cm x 50 cm x 5 cm deep quadrats through a 5 mm and 1 mm sieve and then recording all types of microplastics encountered. This method is repeated on multiple transect lines within Canaveral National Seashore as well as a comparison site, Cocoa Beach, which is heavily developed and nearer Port Canaveral. Samples are taken in May, just before hurricane season, and again in December, after hurricane season has ended.

Collecting sand

Intern Becky collects sand from a 50 cm quadrat for microplastics sampling