Intertidal Concentrations of Microplastics and Their Influence on Ammonium Cycling as Related to the Shellfish Industry
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Microplastics are ubiquitous within the marine environment. The last 10 years have seen research directed at understanding the fate and effect of microplastics within the marine environment; however, no studies have yet addressed how concentrations of these particles could affect sedimentary processes such as nutrient cycling. Herein we first determine the concentration and spatial distribution of microplastics within Baynes Sound, a key shellfish-growing area within coastal British Columbia (BC). We also determined sediment grain size and % organic matter (OM) such that we could relate spatial patterns in sediment microplastic concentrations to sedimentary processes that determine zones of accretion and erosion. Using field-determined concentrations of microplastics, we applied laboratory microcosms studies, which manipulated sediment concentrations of microplastics, OM, and bivalves to determine the influence of sediment microplastics on ammonium cycling within intertidal sediments. Concentrations of microplastics determined within the intertidal sediment varied spatially and were similar to those found in other coastal regions of high urban use. Concentrations were independent of grain size and OM suggesting that physical processes other than those that govern natural sediment components determine the fate of microplastics within sediments. Under laboratory conditions, concentrations of ammonium were significantly greater in the overlying water of treatments with microplastics, clams, and OM compared with treatments without microplastics. These preliminary studies suggest that high concentrations of microplastics have the potential to alter key sedimentary processes such as ammonium flux. This could have serious implications, for example, contributing to eutrophication events in regions of the coast that are highly urbanized.
KeywordsPore Water Overlie Water British Columbia Flood Tide Intertidal Sediment
The authors gratefully acknowledge the logistical support of the McKeachie’s. This study was funded by a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Discovery grant to L. I. Bendell
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