Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Distribution, Interactions and Effects

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Chapter

Abstract

Microplastics are an emerging marine pollutant. It is important to understand their distribution in the marine environment and their implications on marine habitats and marine biota. Microplastics have been found in almost every marine habitat around the world, with plastic composition and environmental conditions significantly affecting their distribution. Marine biota interact with microplastics including birds, fish, turtles, mammals and invertebrates. The biological repercussions depend on to the size of microplastics encountered, with smaller sizes having greater effects on organisms at the cellular level. In the micrometre range plastics are readily ingested and egested, whereas nanometre-sized plastics can pass through cell membranes. Despite concerns raised by ingestion, the effects of microplastic ingestion in natural populations and the implications for food webs are not understood. Without knowledge of retention and egestion rates of field populations, it is difficult to deduce ecological consequences. There is evidence to suggest that microplastics enter food chains and there is trophic transfer between predators and prey. What is clear is that further research on a variety of marine organisms is required to understand the environmental implications of microplastics in more detail and to establish effects in natural populations.

Keywords

Distribution Ingestion Trophic transfer Habitat alterations Biomagnification Bioaccumulation 

10.1 Introduction

With the increasing reliance on plastics as an everyday item, and rapid increase in their production and subsequent disposal, the environmental implications of plastics are a growing concern. The benefits of plastics, including their durability and resistance to degradation, inversely result in negative environmental impacts. As user-plastics are primarily “single use” items they are generally disposed of within one year of production, and whilst some plastic waste is recycled, the majority ends up in land-fill. Concerns arise when plastics enter the marine environment through indiscriminate disposal and it has been estimated that up to 10 % of plastic debris produced will enter the sea (Thompson 2006). Interactions between litter and the marine environment are complex. The impacts of larger plastic debris are discussed by Kühn et al. (2015) and consequences include aesthetic, social and economic issues (Newman et al. 2015), and numerous environmental impacts on marine biota (Derraik 2002; Barnes et al. 2009). However, with an ever increasing reliance on plastic products, and as plastic production, use and disposal continue, microplastics are of increasing concern (Sutherland et al. 2010). Microplastics enter the sea from a variety of sources (Browne 2015) and distributed by oceans currents; these ubiquitous contaminants are widespread (Cózar et al. 2014). The amount of microplastics in the sea will continue to rise, leading to gradual but significant accumulation in coastal and marine environments (Andrady and Neal 2009).

Increasing evidence of microplastics in the sea has led to a need to understand its environmental impacts as a form of marine pollution. A recent review of marine debris research found only 10 % of publications to focus on microplastics, the majority of which were from the last decade (CBD 2012). Even though plastic is the primary constituent of marine debris, microplastics are considered under-researched due to difficulties in assessing their distribution and abundance (Doyle et al. 2011). It has only been in recent years that international, national and regional efforts were made to quantify microplastics in the sea. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008/56/EC) has highlighted concerns for environmental implications of marine litter and one of the key attributes of the MSFD is to determine the ecological harm caused by microplastics and their associated chemicals (Zarfl et al. 2011).

Microplastics were first described as microscopic particles in the region of 20 µm diameter (Thompson et al. 2004). For the purpose of this study, microplastic refers to items <5 mm in size using the criteria developed by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Arthur et al. 2009). The small size of microplastics makes them available for interaction with marine biota in different trophic levels. By inhabiting different marine habitats, a range of organisms are vulnerable to exposure (Wright et al. 2013a). At the millimetre and micrometre scale, sorption of microplastics is dominated by bulk portioning, with effects including blockages when fibres or fragments form aggregates. Whereas at smaller size ranges, specifically the nanometre scale, there is a potential for microplastics to cause harm to organisms (Galloway 2015; Koelmans et al. 2015). Additionally, the consequences of exposure to chemicals associated with plastics are being investigated (Rochman 2015). A widely cited hypothesis explores how the large surface area to volume ratio of microplastics leaves them prone to adsorbing waterborne organic pollutants and the potential for toxic plasticisers to leach from polymer matrices into organisms tissues (Teuten et al. 2007). It was further hypothesized that if subsequently ingested, microplastics may act as a route for toxin introduction to the food chain (Teuten et al. 2009). Whether microplastics act as vectors depends on the gradient between microplastics and biota lipids (Koelmans 2015).

It is important to understand the transport and distribution of microplastics before understanding their fate, including the physical and chemical effects they could have on marine organisms. The objectives of this chapter are to assess the environmental impact of microplastic in the sea by: (1) summarising the distribution of marine microplastics, including the use of models to understand the distribution; (2) determine the interaction of microplastics with marine organisms.

10.2 The Global Distribution of Microplastics in the Sea

From strandlines on beaches to the deep seafloor and throughout the water column, microplastic research is dominated by studies monitoring microplastic distribution and abundance in the marine environment (Ivar du Sol and Costa 2014). A recent estimate suggested there could be between 7000 and 35,000 tons of plastic floating in the open ocean (Cózar et al. 2014). Another study estimated that more than five trillion pieces of plastic and >250,000 t are currently floating in the oceans (Eriksen et al. 2014). Once in the sea microplastics are transported around the globe by ocean currents where they persist and accumulate. Microplastics are suspended in the water column (e.g. Lattin et al. 2004), surface waters (e.g. Cózar et al. 2014), coastal waters (e.g. Ng and Obbard 2006), estuaries (e.g. Browne et al. 2010), rivers (Sadri and Thompson 2014), beaches (e.g. Browne et al. 2011) and deep-sea sediments (Van Cauwenberghe et al. 2013b; Woodall et al. 2014; Fischer et al. 2015). Suspended in the water column, microplastics can become trapped by ocean currents and accumulate in central ocean regions (e.g. Law et al. 2010). Ocean gyres and convergent zones are noteworthy areas of debris accumulation, as the rotational pattern of currents cause high concentrations of plastics to be captured and moved towards the centre of the region (Karl 1999). As gyres are present in all of the world’s oceans, microplastic accumulation can occur at a global scale and has been documented during the past four decades. Distribution is further influenced by wind mixing, affecting the vertical movement of plastics (Kukulka et al. 2012). Physical characteristics of plastic polymers, including their density, can influence their distribution in the water column and benthic habitats (Murray and Cowie 2011). Buoyant plastics float at the surface, whereas more dense microplastics or those fouled by biota sink to the sea floor. It has recently been estimated that 50 % of the plastics from municipal waste have a higher density than seawater such that it will readily sink to the seafloor (Engler 2012). It is currently not economically feasible nor is it desirable to remove microplastics from the ocean.

A number of concerns have been raised regarding the assessment of microplastic distribution. There are multiple pathways for the introduction of microplastics into the marine environment which do not have accurate timescales for the rate of degradation (Ryan et al. 2009). Quantification is complicated by the size of the oceans in relation to the size of plastics being assessed (Cole et al. 2011), which are further confounded by ocean currents and seasonal patterns introducing spatial and temporal variability (Doyle et al. 2011). As a result, there are various techniques applied to the sampling of microplastics in the marine environment (Löder and Gerdts 2015). Results of studies have been reported in different dimensions, e.g. the number of microplastics in a known water volume (particles m−3) or area measurements (particles km−2). This discrepancy presents a problem when comparing between studies, as it is not possible to compare results directly. For the purpose of this review, which aims to carry out a critical assessment of the global knowledge of microplastic distribution, a conversion was made to enable comparisons between the different dimensions of measurement. It is reasonable to assume that surface samples are collected in the top 0.20 m of water and therefore by making a simple calculation to add a third dimension (firstly converting particle km−2 to m−2, then multiplying by 0.20 m to convert to a volume measurement, m−3) we are able to compare different sampling methods in a variety of geographical locations. However, because of current directions in relation to boats, and approximate vessel speeds, it is difficult to calculate the amount of water passing through a net. As nets can ride out of the water, the exact volume of water passing through is unknown: the calculations have to be considered, at best, estimations.

It is important to understand the distribution of microplastics in the sea to grasp their potential impacts. This section will present a number of studies documenting microplastics in geographical regions including the Pacific, Atlantic, European Seas and the Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean and polar regions. It will introduce modelling strategies that have been utilised to understand microplastic distribution and accumulation around the globe.

10.2.1 Microplastics in the Pacific Ocean

Numerous studies on microplastics have been undertaken in the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest water basin (Table 10.1). One area which has received considerable attention is the North Pacific Central Gyre (NPCG) located off the west coast of California, USA. The gyre contains possibly the most well publicised area of plastic accumulation, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (Kaiser 2010). Microplastic concentrations in the NPCG have increased by two orders of magnitude in the last four decades (Goldstein et al. 2012). In comparison, microplastic abundance in the North Pacific subtropical gyre (NPSG) is widespread and spatially variable, but values are two orders of magnitude lower than in the NPCG (Goldstein et al. 2013). Microplastic studies in the south Pacific are limited to the subtropical gyre where an increasing trend of microplastics was found towards the centre of the gyre (5.38 particles m−3 1 Eriksen et al. 2013). In a similar way to macroplastic debris, oceanographic features strongly affect the distribution of microplastics in open oceans and areas of upwelling create oceanographic convergence zones for marine debris.
Table 10.1

Mean abundance (±SD, unless stated otherwise) of microplastic debris in the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean

Location

Equipment used

Amount (±SD)

Particles (m−3)

Source

North Pacific

Bering Sea

Ring net

a80 (±190) km−2

0.000016

Day and Shaw (1987)

Bering Sea

Ring/neuston net

1.0 (± 4.2) km−2

0.0000002

Day et al. (1990)

Bering Sea

Sameota sampler/ manta net

Range: 0.004–0.19 m−3

0.004–0.19

Doyle et al. (2011)

Subarctic N.P.

Ring net

a3,370 (±2,380) km−2

0.00067

Day and Shaw (1987)

Subarctic N.P.

Ring/neuston net

61.4 (±225.5) km−2

0.000012

Day et al. (1990)

Eastern North Pacific

Vancouver Island, Canada

Underway sampling

279 (±178) m−3

279

Desforges et al. (2014)

Eastern North Pacific

Plankton net

Estimated 21,290 t afloat

/

Law et al. (2014)

N.P. transitional water

Ring/neuston net

291.6 (±714.4) km−2

0.00012

Day et al. (1990)

N.P. central gyre

Manta net

334,271 km−2

*2.23

Moore et al. (2001)

N.P. central gyre

Manta net

85,184 km−2

0.017

Carson et al. (2013)

N.P. subtropical gyre 1999–2010

Plankton net/manta net/neuston net

Median: 0.116 m−3

0.12

Goldstein et al. (2012)

South Californian current system

Manta net

Median: 0.011–0.033 m−3

0.011–0.033

Gilfillan et al. (2009)

Santa Monica Bay, California, USA

Manta net

3.92 m−3

3.92

Lattin et al. (2004)

Santa Monica Bay, California, USA

Manta net

7.25 m−3

7.25

Moore et al. (2002)

N.P. subtropical gyre

Manta net

Median: 0.02–0.45 m−2

0.0042–0.089

Goldstein et al. (2013)

South Equatorial current

Neuston net

137 km−2

0.000027

Spear et al. (1995)

Equatorial counter current

24 km−2

0.0000048

Western North Pacific

Subtropical N.P.

Ring net

a96,100 (±780,000) km−2

0.019

Day and Shaw (1987)

Subtropical N.P.

Ring/neuston net

535.1 (±726.1) km−2

0.00011

Day et al. (1990)

Near-shore waters, Japan

Ring/neuston net

128.2 (±172.2) km−2

0.000026

Day et al. (1990)

Kuroshio current system

Neuston net

174,000 (±467,000) km−2

0.034

Yamashita and Tanimura (2007)

Yangtze estuary system, East China Sea

Neuston net

4,137.3 (±8.2 × 104) m−3

4137.3

Zhao et al. (2014)

Geoje Island, South Korea

Bulk sampling, hand-net, manta net

16,000 (±14 × 103) m−3

16,000

Song et al. (2014)

South Pacific

South Pacific subtropical gyre

Manta net

26,898 (±60,818) km−2

0.0054

Eriksen et al. (2013)

Australian coast

Neston net

b4,256.3 (±757.8) km−2

0.00085

Reisser et al. (2013)

Manta net

If particles in m−3 were not reported, the values have been converted as follows: (1) km−2 to m−2: by division by 1,000,000 followed by multiplication by 0.2 m; (2) m−2 to m−3 carried out by 0.2 multiplication

aMean ±95 % confidence intervals

bMean ± standard error

Coastal ecosystems of the Pacific appear to be impacted by microplastics in areas of nutrient upwelling (Doyle et al. 2011) and influenced by local weather systems (Moore et al. 2002; Lattin et al. 2004). Microplastic load increased further inshore, reflecting the inputs from terrestrial runoff and particles re-suspended from sediments following storms (Lattin et al. 2004). Microplastics are in turn transported by ocean currents from populated coastal areas (Reisser et al. 2013). This is also reflected in offshore subsurface waters which had 4–27 times less plastics than coastal sites in the northeast Pacific (Desforges et al. 2014).

Pre-production plastic resin pellets and fragments wash up on coastlines worldwide and have been recovered from several Pacific beaches (Table 10.2). Plastic pellets, typically 3–5 mm in size, are made predominantly from the polymers polyethylene and polypropylene (Endo et al. 2005; Ogata et al. 2009). The average abundance of plastic fragments on beaches in the southeast Pacific was greater in isolated areas (Easter Island: >800 items m−2) than on beaches from continental Chile (30 items m−2) (Hidalgo-Ruz and Thiel 2013). This trend has been seen in the Hawaiian archipelago, where the remotest beaches on Midway Atoll and Moloka’I contained the highest quantity of plastic particles (McDermid and McMullen 2004; Corcoran et al. 2009; Cooper and Corcoran 2010).
Table 10.2

Mean microplastic abundance (±SD, unless otherwise stated) in sediments from the Pacific

Location

Types

Amount (±SD)

Source

North Pacific

Pacific beaches

Fragments 10 mm

/

Hirai et al. (2011)

9 beaches, Hawaiian islands

Fragments 1–15 mm

a37.8 kg−1

aMcDermid and McMullen (2004)

Pellets 1–15 mm

a4.9 kg−1

Hawaiian islands

Pellets and fragments

/

Rios et al. (2007)

Kauai, Hawaiian islands

Fragments and pellets 0.8–6.5 mm

/

Corcoran et al. (2009)

Kauai, Hawaiian islands

Fragments <1 cm

/

Cooper and Corcoran (2010)

Kamillo Beach, Hawaii

Pellets and fragments

Total: 248

Carson et al. (2011)

Northeast Pacific

Los Angeles, California, USA

Pellets and fragments

/

Rios et al. (2007)

San Diego, California, USA

Pellets and fragments <5 mm

/

Van et al. (2012)

Beaches, western USA

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Pellets and fragments

/

Rios et al. (2007)

Northwest Pacific

Coastal beaches, Russia

Fragments and pellets

b29 m−2

Kusui and Noda (2003)

Tokyo, Japan

Pellets

>1,000 m−2

Kuriyama et al. (2002)

Coastal beaches, Japan

Pellets

/

Mato et al. (2001)

Coastal beaches, Japan

Pellets

b0.52 m−2

Kusui and Noda (2003)

Fragments

b1.1 m−2

Coastal beaches, Japan

Pellets <5 mm

>100 per beach

Endo et al. (2005)

Korean Strait

Heugnam Beach, South Korea

PS spheres

874 (±377) m−2

Heo et al. (2013)

Fragments

25 (±10) m−2

Pellets

41 (±19) m−2

South China Sea

Ming Chau Island, Vietnam

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Hong Kong, China

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

South Pacific

Coastal beaches, New Zealand

Pellets <5 mm

>1,000 m−1

Gregory (1978)

Coastal beaches, Chile

Fragments and pellets 1–10 mm

30 m−2

Hidalgo-Riz and Thiel (2013)

Easter Island, Chile

Fragments and pellets 1–10 mm

805 m−2

Hidalgo-Riz and Thiel (2013)

aCalculated from total plastic collected from an overall total of 440 L of beach sediment

bCalculated from total plastics found over total survey area

10.2.2 Microplastics in the Atlantic Ocean

Research on microplastic distribution in the Atlantic is less extensive than in the Pacific (Table 10.3), but includes a number of long-term studies. A time-series conducted in the north Atlantic and Caribbean Sea identified microplastics in 62 % of the trawls conducted with densities reaching 580,000 particles km−2 (Law et al. 2010). Distinct patterns emerged with the highest concentration (83 % of plastics) in subtropical latitudes, 22°N and 88°N, of the north Atlantic gyre marking the presence of a large-scale convergence zone (Law et al. 2010; Morét-Ferguson et al. 2010) similar to the south Pacific (Eriksen et al. 2013). Converging surface currents driven by winds are assumed to be the driving force of this accumulation. To assess long-term trends in abundance, a time-series data set of continuous plankton recorder (CPR) samples from north Atlantic shipping routes were re-examined and microplastics were identified from the 1960s with a significant increase over time (Thompson et al. 2004). Regular sampling schemes have begun to monitor the spatial and temporal trends of microplastics in the northeast Atlantic and found microplastics to be widespread and abundant (Lusher et al. 2014).
Table 10.3

Mean abundance (±SD, unless stated otherwise) of microplastic debris in the surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean

Location

Equipment used

Amount (± SD)

Particles (m−3)

Source

North Atlantic

North Atlantic gyre (29–31°N)

Plankton net

20,328 (±2,324) km−2

0.0041

Law et al. (2010)

North Atlantic

Continuous plankton recorder (CPR)

1960–1980: 0.01 m−3

0.01

Thompson et al. (2004)

1980–2000: 0.04 m−3

0.04

Northwest Atlantic

Northwest Atlantic

Neuston net

a490 km−2

0.00098

Wilber (1987)

Block Island Sound, USA

Plankton net

Range: 14–543 m−3

14–543

Austin and Stoops-Glass (1977)

Gulf of Maine

Plankton net

1534 (±200) km−2

0.00031

Law et al. (2010)

New England, USA

Plankton net

Mean ranges: 0.00–2.58 m−3

0.00–2.58

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Continental shelf, west coast USA

Neuston net

2,773 km−2

0.00056

Colton et al. (1974)

Western Sargasso Sea

Neuston net

3,537 km−2

0.00071

Carpenter and Smith (1972)

Caribbean Sea

Caribbean

Neuston net

60.6–180 km−2

0.000012–0.000036

Colton et al. (1974)

Caribbean

Plankton net

1,414 (±112) km−2

0.00028

Law et al. (2010)

Northeast Atlantic

Offshore, Ireland

Underway sampling

2.46 m−3

2.46

Lusher et al. (2014)

English Channel, U.K.

Plankton net

0.27 m−3

0.27

Cole et al. (2014a)

Bristol Channel, U.K.

Lowestoft plankton sampler

Range: 0–100 m−3

0–>100

Morris and Hamilton (1974)

Severn Estuary, U.K.

   

Kartar et al. (1973, 1976)

Portuguese coast

Neuston net/ CPR

0.02–0.036 m−3

0.02–0.036

Frias et al. (2014)

Equatorial Atlantic

St. Peter and St. Paul Archipelago, Brazil

Plankton net

0.01 m−3

0.01

Ivar do Sul et al. (2013)

South Atlantic

South Atlantic Bight

Neuston net

Mean weight: 0.03–0.08 mg m−2

 

van Dolah et al. (1980)

Cape Basin, South Atlantic

Neuston sledge

1,874.3 km−2

0.00037

Morris (1980)

Cape Province, South Africa

Neuston net

3,640 km−2

0.00073

Ryan (1988)

Fernando de Noronha, Abrolhos and Trindade, Brazil

Manta net

0.03 m−3

0.03

Ivar do Sul et al. (2014)

Gioana estuary, Brazil

Conical plankton net

26.04–100 m−3

0.26

Lima et al. (2014)

If particles in m−3 were not reported, the values have been converted as follows: (1) km−2 to m−2: by division by 1,000 000, followed by multiplication by 0.2 m; (2) m−2 to m−3 carried out multiplication by 0.2

aThis value is for pellets only, although fragments >5 mm were also reported

Microplastics accumulate in the coastal pelagic zones of the Atlantic (Table 10.3). Water samples from the Portuguese coast identified microplastics in 61 % of the samples with higher concentrations found in Costa Vicentina and Lisbon (0.036 and 0.033 particles m−3, respectively) than in the Algarve and Aveiro (0.014 and 0.002 particles m−3, respectively). These results are probably related to the proximity to urban areas and river runoff (Frias et al. 2014), which is similar to the trend seen in the Pacific. Following a MARMAP cruise in the south Atlantic, microplastic beads were present in 14.6–34.2 % of tows conducted (van Dolah et al. 1980). Pelagic subsurface plankton samples from a geographically isolated archipelago, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, were not free of microplastic fragments. Modelling studies suggested that oceanographic mechanisms promote the topographic trapping of zooplankton and therefore microplastics might be retained by small-scale circulation patterns (Ivar do Sul et al. 2013). Additionally, research in the Firth of Clyde (U.K.) indicated that intense environmental sampling regimes are necessary to encompass the small-scale and temporal variation in coastal microplastic abundance (Welden, pers. comm.).

Microplastic granules and pellets have been identified on Atlantic beaches since the 1980s (Table 10.4). It was hypothesised that pre-production pellets are transported by trans-oceanic currents before being washed ashore in areas such as the mid-Atlantic Archipelago, Fernando de Noronha (Ivar do Sul et al. 2009). Fragments make up a considerable proportion of marine debris on saltmarsh beaches in North Carolina (Viehman et al. 2011), the Canary Islands (Baztan et al. 2014) and beaches and intertidal plains in Brazil (Costa et al. 2010, 2011). Whereas, fibres were primarily identified in sediment samples from an intertidal ecosystem in Nova Scotia, Canada (Mathalon and Hill 2014).
Table 10.4

Mean microplastic abundance (±SD, unless stated otherwise) in sediments from the Atlantic

Location

Types

Amount

Source

North Atlantic

Nova Scotia, Canada

Pellets

Max: <10 m−1

Gregory (1983)

Nova Scotia, Canada

Fibres

200–800 fibres kg−1

Mathalon and Hill (2014)

Beaches, eastern USA

Pellets

 

Ogata et al. (2009)

Factory beaches, New York, USA

Spheres

 

Hays and Cormons (1974)

*Maine, USA

Pellets and fragments

105 kg−1

Graham and Thompson (2009)

*Florida, USA

Pellets and fragments

214 kg−1

Graham and Thompson (2009)

Florida Keys, USA

Pellets and fragments

100–1,000 m−2

Wilber (1987)

Cape Cod, USA

Pellets and fragments

100–1,000 m−2

Wilber (1987)

North Carolina, USA

Fragments <5 cm

60 % of debris in size class

Viehman et al. (2011)

Bermuda

Pellets

>5,000 m−1

Gregory (1983)

Bermuda

Pellets and fragments

2,000–10,000 m−2

Wilber (1987)

Bahamas

Pellets and fragments

Windward: 500–1,000 m−2

Wilber (1987)

Leeward: 200–500 m−2

Lesser Antilles

Pellets and fragments

Windward: 100–5,000 m−2

Wilber (1987)

Leeward: 50–100 m−2

Le Havre, France

Pellets

 

Endo et al. (2013)

Costa Nova, Portugal

Pellets

 

Ogata et al. (2009)

Lisbon, Portugal

Fibres and pellets

 

Frias et al. (2010)

Portuguese coast

Pellets and fragments

185.1 m−2

Martins and Sobral (2011)

Portuguese coast

Pellets 3–6 mm

1,289 m−2

Antunes et al. (2013)

*Porcupine abyssal plain

Fragments

a40 item m−2

Van Cauwenberghe et al. (2013b)

Canary Islands, Spain

Pellets and fragments <5 mm

<1 g kg−1–>40 g kg−1

Baztan et al. (2014)

English Channel

Estuarine sediment, U.K.

Fragments and fibres

Maximum: 31 kg−1

Thompson et al. (2004)

*Subtidal sediments, U.K.

Fragments and fibres

Maximum: 86 kg−1

Thompson et al. (2004)

Plymouth, U.K.

Pellets

 

Ogata et al. (2009)

South Devon, U.K.

Pellets

~100

Ashton et al. (2010)

Tamar estuary, U.K.

Fragments <1 mm

65 % of total debris

Browne et al. (2010)

Southwest England, U.K.

Pellets

~100 at each location

Holmes et al. (2012)

South Atlantic

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Pellets 23 %

b3.5 kg−1

Ivar do Sul et al. (2009)

Fragments 65 %

b9.63 kg−1

Nylon monofilament 5 %

b0.73 kg−1

Recife, Brazil

Fragments 96.7 %

c300,000 m−3

Costa et al. (2010)

Pellets 3.3 %

Northeast Brazil

Fragments 1–10 mm

59 items m−3

Costa et al. (2011)

*Southern Atlantic

Fragments

a40 items m−2

Van Cauwenberghe et al. (2013b)

Santos Bay, Brazil

Pellets

0–2,500 m−3

Turra et al. (2014)

All sediments are beach sediments unless annotated with *, which refers to benthic or subtidal sediment. d.w. is dry weight of sediment. When originally reported in l, values were converted to kg

aEstimated from 1 item 25 cm−2

bCalculated from total weight of sand (13,708 g)

cCalculated from 0.3 items cm−3

10.2.3 Microplastics in European Seas and the Mediterranean Sea

Marine litter including microplastic is a serious concern in the Mediterranean, with plastics accounting for 70–80 % of litter identified (Fossi et al. 2014). This enclosed water basin is not free of microplastic contamination (Table 10.5). Levels of microplastics in surface waters of the northwest Mediterranean were similar to those reported for the NPCG, (0.27 particles m−32 Collignon et al. 2012), and areas far away from point sources of pollution have high microplastic abundance (0.15 particles m−3; de Lucia et al. 2014). Interestingly, fewer particles were recorded from surface waters from coastal Corsica (0.012 particles m−33 ;Collignon et al. 2014). Microplastic distribution is strongly influenced by wind stress, which may redistribute particles in the upper layers of the water column and preclude sampling by surface tows (Collignon et al. 2012). Oceanographic influences may affect the distribution of microplastics in the Mediterranean. Further research will help to clarify if the new hypothesis by de Lucia et al. (2014) holds, which suggests that upwelling dilutes the amount of plastic in the surface waters.
Table 10.5

Mean microplastic abundance in surface waters of the Mediterranean and European seas

Location

Equipment used

Amount

Particles (m−3)

Source

West coast, Sweden

Manta net (80 µm)

Range: 150–2,400 m−3

150–2400

Norén (2007)

Manta net (450 µm)

Range: 0.01–0.14 m−3

0.01–0.14

Skagerrak, Sweden

Submersible in situ pump

Maximum: 102,000 m−3

102,000

Norén and Naustvoll (2011)

Northwest Mediterranean

Manta net

1.33 m−2

0.27

Collignon et al. (2012)

Bay of Calvi, Corsica, France

wp2 net

0.062 m−2

0.012

Collignon et al. (2014)

Gulf of Oristano, Sardinia, Italy

Manta net

0.15 m−3

0.15

de Lucia et al. (2014)

North Sea, Finland

Manta net

Range: 0–0.74 m−3

0–0.74

Magnusson (2014)

If particles in m−3 were not reported, the values have been converted as follows: (1) km−2 to m−2: by division by 1,000,000 followed by multiplication by 0.2 m; (2) m−2 to m−3 carried out multiplication by 0.2

Microplastics, including beads and pellets, have been widely reported for sedimentary habitats and beaches in European Seas and the Mediterranean Sea (Table 10.6). Microplastics have been extracted from sediments from Norderney, in the North Sea (Dekiff et al. 2014; Fries et al. 2013) and samples taken at the East Frisian Islands, where tidal flats were more contaminated than sandy beaches (Liebezeit and Dubaish 2012). Areas of low hydrodynamics appear to have high microplastic abundance, such as the Venice lagoon (Vianello et al. 2013). Reduced water movement could also be attributed to the difference between concentrations of microplastics in Belgium: higher concentrations of microplastics were identified in sediments from Belgium harbors (Claessens et al. 2011) than in beach samples (Van Cauwenberghe et al. 2013a). Lastly, microplastics were recorded in deep offshore sediments (Van Cauwenberghe et al. 2013b; Fischer et al. 2015), which shows that microplastics sink to the deep seafloor. In fact, the deep seafloor may be considered a major sink for microplastic debris (Woodall et al. 2014) and explain the current mismatch between estimated global inputs of plastic debris to the oceans (Jambeck et al. 2015) and field data (Cózar et al. 2014; Eriksen et al. 2014), which refer largely to floating litter.
Table 10.6

Mean microplastic abundance (±SD, unless stated otherwise) in sediments from the Mediterranean and European seas

Location

Types

Amount

Source

North Sea

Harbor sediment, Sweden

Fragments

a20 and 50 kg−1

Norén (2007)

Industrial harbor sediment, Sweden

Pellets

a3320 kg−1

Norén (2007)

Industrial coastal sediment, Sweden

Pellets

a340 kg−1

Norén (2007)

Spiekeroog, Germany

Fibres and granules

b3,800 kg−1 d.w.

Liebezeit and Dubaish (2012)

Jade System, Germany

Fibres

88 (±82) kg−1

Dubaish and Liebezeit (2013)

Granules

64 (±194) kg−1

Norderney, Germany

Fragments

/

Fries et al. (2013)

Norderney, Germany

Fragments

1.3, 1.7, 2.3 kg−1 d.w.

Dekiff et al. (2014)

Zandervoord, Netherlands

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

*Harbor, Belgium

Fibres, granules, films, spheres

116.7 (±92.1) kg−1 d.w.

Claessens et al. (2011)

*Continental shelf, Belgium

Fibres, granules, films

97.2 (±18.6) kg−1 d.w.

Claessens et al. (2011)

Beach, Belgium

Fibres, granules, films

92.8 (±37.2) kg−1 d.w.

Claessens et al. (2011)

Beach, Belgium

Pellets and fragments

17 (±11) kg−1

Van Cauwenberghe et al. (2013a)

Forth estuary, U.K.

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Mediterranean Sea

8 beaches, Malta

Pellets

0.7–167 m−2

Turner and Holmes (2011)

Sicily, Italy

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Venice lagoon, Italy

Fragments and fibres

672–2,175 kg−1 d.w.

Vianello et al. (2013)

*Nile deep sea fan, Mediterranean

Fragments

c40 items m−2

Van Cauwenberghe et al. (2013b)

Lesvos, Greece

Pellets

/

Karapangioti and Klontza (2007)

Kato Achaia, Greece

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Beaches, Greece

Pellets

/

Karapanagioti et al. (2011)

Kea Island, Greece

Pellets

10, 43, 218, 575 m−2

Kaberi et al. (2013)

Tripoli-Tyre, Lebanon

Pellets and fragments

/

Shiber (1979)

Costa del Sol, Spain

Pellets

/

Shiber (1982)

18 beaches, western Spain

Pellets

/

Shiber (1987)

Izmir, Turkey

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

All sediments are beach sediments unless annotated with *, which refers to benthic or subtidal sediment. d.w. is dry weight of sediment. When originally reported in l, values were converted to kg

aCalculated from 100 ml sediment

bCalculated from 10 g sediment

cEstimated from 1 item 25 cm−2

10.2.4 Microplastics in the Indian Ocean and Marginal Seas

To date there are few large-scale reports on microplastics from the Indian Ocean. Reddy et al. (2006) reported microplastic fragments from a ship-breaking yard in the Arabian Sea, and microplastics accounted for 20 % of the plastics recorded on sandy beaches in Mumbai (Jayasiri et al. 2013). Pellets were also recorded on Malaysian beaches (Ismail et al. 2009). Most of the studies shown in Table 10.7 are part of the “International Pellet Watch” (Takada 2006; Ogata et al. 2009). Shoreline surveys conducted in surface waters and sediments on Singapore’s coasts identified microplastics >2 µm (Ng and Obbard 2006). This highlights an area that requires further investigation to obtain a wider picture of microplastic distribution around the globe.
Table 10.7

Mean microplastic abundance (±SD, unless stated otherwise) in sediments from the Indian Ocean and marginal seas

Location

Types

Amount

Source

Arabian Sea

Ship-breaking yard, Alang-Sosiya, India

Fragments

81 mg kg−1

Reddy et al. (2006)

Mumbai, Chennai and Sunderbans, India

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Mumbai, India

Fragments

41.85 % of total plastics

Jayasiri et al. (2013)

East Asian Marginal Seas

Coastline, Singapore

Fragments

/

Ng and Obbard (2006)

Coastline, Singapore

Fibres, grains, fragments

36.8 ± 23.6 kg−1

Mohamed Nor and Obbard (2014)

Selangor, Malaysia

Pellets

<18 m−2

Ismail et al. (2009)

Lang Kawi, Penang and Borneo, Malaysia

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Rayong, Thailand

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Jakarta Bay, Indonesia

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Southern Indian Ocean

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Mozambique

Pellets

/

Ogata et al. (2009)

Gulf of Oman

Pellets

>50–200 m−2

Khordagui and Abu-Hilal (1994)

Arabian Gulf

Pellets

>50–80,000 m−2

All sediments are beach sediments

10.2.5 Microplastics in Polar Regions

Prior to 2014, there had been no direct studies of microplastics in either the Arctic or Antarctica; the plastic flux into the Arctic Ocean has been calculated to range between 62,000 and 105,000 tons per year, with variation due to spatial heterogeneity, temporal variability and different sampling methods (Zarfl and Matthies 2010). With the estimated value four to six orders of magnitude below the atmospheric transport and ocean current fluxes, the study concluded that plastic transport levels to the Arctic are negligible and that plastics are not a likely vector for organic pollutants to the Arctic. However, Obbard et al. (2014) published results from ice cores collected from remote locations in the Arctic Ocean. The levels of microplastics observed (range: 38–234 particles m−3) were two orders of magnitude greater than previously reported in the Pacific gyre (Goldstein et al. 2012). Macroplastics have been identified floating in surface waters of Antarctica. However, trawls for microplastics did not catch any particles (Barnes et al. 2010). Dietary studies of birds from the Canadian Arctic have reported ingested plastics (Mallory et al. 2006; Provencher et al. 2009, 2010), and macroplastics were observed on the deep Arctic seafloor (Bergmann and Klages 2012). This indirect evidence suggests that microplastics have already entered polar regions. A modelling study even suggests the presence or formation of a sixth garbage patch in the Barents Sea (van Sebille et al. 2012).

10.2.6 Modelling the Distribution of Microplastics

Studies have highlighted the interaction of oceanographic and environmental variables on the distribution of microplastics (e.g. Eriksen et al. 2013). As polymer densities affect the distribution of plastics in the water column, it is important to understand how microplastics are transported at the surface and at depths. Knowledge of point-source pollution, including riverine input and sewage drainage into marine and coastal environments, can be useful in understanding the extent to which certain ecosystems are affected. Furthermore, knowledge of plastic accumulation on beaches will benefit the study of microplastics. For example, a study of plastic litter washed onto beaches developed a particle tracking model, which indicated that, if levels of plastic outflow remain constant over the coming decade, plastic litter quantity on beaches would continue to increase, and in some cases (3 % of all east Asian beaches) could see a 250-fold increase in plastic litter (Kako et al. 2014). If not removed, these larger items of plastic litter will break down into microplastics over time.

The fate of plastics in the marine environment is affected by poorly understood geophysical processes, including ocean mixing of the sea-surface boundary layer, re-suspension from sediments, and sinking rates plastics denser than seawater. Modelling approaches are required to further understand, and accurately estimate the global distribution, residence time, convergence zones, and ecological consequences of microplastics (Ballent et al. 2013). Models predicting the breakdown, fragmentation, and subsequent mixing and re-suspension of microplastics in sediments and seawater could provide an estimation of microplastic accumulation over short and long time scales; as well as an estimation of the dispersal patterns of microplastics in the marine environment. Generalized linear models have indicated that oceanographic mechanisms may promote topographic trapping of zooplankton and microplastics, which may be retained by small-scale circulation patterns in the Equatorial Atlantic, suggesting there is an outward gradient of microplastics moving offshore (Ivar do Sul et al. 2013). The recovery of plastic from surface seawater is dependent on wind speeds: stronger winds resulted in the capture of fewer plastics because wind-induced mixing of the surface layer vertically distributes plastics (Kulkula et al. 2012). Furthermore, by integrating the effect of vertical wind mixing on the concentrations of plastics in Australian waters, researchers estimated depth-integrated plastic concentrations, with high concentrations expected at low wind speeds. Thus, with the inverse relationship between wind force and plastic concentration, net tow concentrations of microplastics increased by a factor of 2.8 (Reisser et al. 2013).

Ballent et al. (2013) used the MOHID modelling system to predict the dispersal of non-buoyant pellets in Portugal using their density, settling velocity and re-suspension characteristics. Researchers simulated the transport of microplastic pellets over time using oceanographic processes, scales and systems. Model predictions suggest that the bottom topography restricts pellet movement at the head of the Nazaré Canyon with a potential area of accumulation of plastics pellets on the seafloor, implying long-term exposure of benthic ecosystems to microplastics. Tidal forces, as well as large-scale oceanographic circulation patterns are likely to transport microplastics up and down the Nazaré Canyon, which may be greatly increased during mass transport of waters linked to storms (Ballent et al. 2013) or deep-water cascading events (Durrieu de Madron et al. 2013).

With residence times from decades to centuries predicted for microplastics in the benthic environment (Ballent et al. 2013), future studies should assess the degradation of microplastics on the seafloor to be able to estimate residence times in those potential sink environments. Coupled with observations of microplastics in surface waters, the total oceanic plastic concentrations might be underestimated because of limited but growing knowledge of the geophysical and oceanographic processes in the surface waters. Furthermore, as microplastics degrade towards a nanometre scale, transport properties may be affected, and as a result, long-term transport models will need to be corrected. Modelling should be adapted to bring in ecological consequences of microplastics in benthic environments and the water column. Research should focus on critical areas such as biodiversity hotspots and socio-economic hotspots that could affect vulnerable marine biota and coastal communities.

10.2.7 Summary

Microplastics have been documented in almost every habitat of the open oceans and enclosed seas, including beaches, surface waters, water column and the deep seafloor. Although most water bodies have been investigated, there is a lack of published work from polar regions and the Indian Ocean. Further research is required to accurately estimate the amount of different types of microplastics in benthic environments around the globe. Distribution of microplastics depends on environmental conditions including ocean currents, horizontal and vertical mixing, wind mixing and biofilm formation, as well as the properties of individual plastic polymers. A number of modelling approaches have been considered in the recent literature, which highlighted the effect of wind on the distribution of microplastics in the ocean. Oceanographic modelling of floating debris has shown accumulation in ocean gyres, and the distribution of microplastics within the water column appears to be dependent on the composition, density and shape of plastic polymers affecting their buoyancy. Further modelling studies may help to identify and predict regions with ecological communities and fisheries more vulnerable to the potential consequences of plastic contamination. The distribution of microplastic plays a significant role in terms of which organisms and habitats are affected. Widespread accumulation and distribution of microplastics raises concerns regarding the interaction and potential effects on marine organisms.

10.3 Interactions of Microplastics with Marine Organisms

Recently, Wright et al. (2013a) discussed the biological factors, which could enhance microplastic bioavailability to marine organisms: the varying density of microplastics allows them to occupy different areas of the water column and benthic sediments. As microplastics interact with plankton and sediment particles, both suspension and deposit feeders may be at risk of accidentally or selectively ingesting marine debris. However, the relative impacts are likely to vary across the size spectrum of microplastic in relation to the organisms affected, which is dependent on the size of the microplastic particles encountered. Microplastics in the upper end of the size spectrum (1–5 mm) may compromise feeding and digestion. For example, Codina-García et al. (2013) isolated such pellets and fragments from the stomachs of seabirds. Particles <20 µm are actively ingested by small invertebrates (e.g. Thompson et al. 2004) but they are also egested (e.g. Lee et al. 2013). Studies have shown that nanoparticles can translocate (e.g. Wegner et al. 2012) and model simulations have indicated that nano-sized polystyrene (PS) particles may permeate into the lipid membranes of organisms, altering the membrane structure, membrane protein activity, and therefore cellular function (Rossi et al. 2013). The following section deals with incidences of ingestion, trophic transfer and provision of new habitat by the presence of microplastics in the marine environment. Although the sections contain examples, comprehensive lists of microplastics ingestion are included in the corresponding tables.

10.3.1 Ingestion

Ingestion is the most likely interaction between marine organisms and microplastics. Microplastics’ small size gives them the potential to be ingested by a wide range of biota in benthic and pelagic ecosystems. In some cases, organisms feeding mechanisms do not allow for discrimination between prey and anthropogenic items (Moore et al. 2001). Secondly, organisms might feed directly on microplastics, mistaking them for prey or selectively feed on microplastics in place of food (Moore 2008). If there is a predominance of microplastic particles associated with planktonic prey items, organisms could be unable to differentiate or prevent ingestion. A number of studies have reported microplastics from the stomachs and intestines of marine organisms, including fish and invertebrates. Watts et al. (2014) showed that shore crabs (Carcinus maenas) will not only ingest microplastics along with food (evidence in the foregut) but also draw plastics into the gill cavity because of their ventilation mechanism: this highlights that it is important to consider all sorts of routes of exposure to microplastics. If organisms ingest microplastics they could have adverse effects on individuals by disrupting feeding and digestion (GESAMP 2010). Laboratory (Table 10.8) and field (Table 10.9) studies highlighted that microplastics are mistaken for food by a wide variety of animals including birds, fish, turtles, mammals and invertebrates. Despite concerns raised regarding microplastic ingestion, few studies specifically examined the occurrence of microplastic in natural, in situ, populations as it is methodologically challenging to assess microplastic ingestion in the field (Browne et al. 2008).
Table 10.8

Laboratory studies exposing organisms to microplastics

Organism

Size of ingested material

Exposure concentration

Effect

Source

PhylumChlorophyta

Scenedesmus spp.

20 nm

1.6–40 mg mL−1

Absorption, ROS increased, photosynthesis affected

Bhattacharya et al. (2010)

Phylum Haptophyta

Isochrysis galbana

2 μm PS

9 × 104 mL−1

Microspheres attached to algae, no negative effect observed

Long et al. (2014)

PhylumDinophyta

Heterocapsa triquetra

2 μm PS

9 × 104 mL−1

Microspheres attached to algae, no negative effect observed

Long et al. (2014)

Phylum Cryptophyta

Rhodomonas salina

2 μm PS

9 × 104 mL−1

Microspheres attached to algae, no negative effect observed

Long et al. (2014)

Phylum Ochrophyta

Chaetoceros neogracilis

2 μm PS

9 × 104 mL−1

Microspheres attached to algae, no negative effect observed

Long et al. (2014)

Phylum Ciliophora

Strombidium sulcatum

0.41–10 μm

5–10 % ambient bacteria concentration

Ingestion

Christaki et al. (1998)

Tintinnopsis lobiancoi

10 μm PS

1,000, 2,000, 10,000 mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Phylum Rotifera

Synchaeta spp.

10 μm PS

2,000 mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Phylum Annelida

Class Polychaete

Lugworm (Arenicola marina)

20–2000 µm

1.5 g L−1

Ingestion

Thompson et al. (2004)

Arenicola marina

130 μm UPVC

0–5 % by weight

Ingestion, reduced feeding, increased phagocytic activity, reduced available energy reserves, lower lipid reserves

Wright et al. (2013b)

Arenicola marina

230 µm PVC

1500 g of sediment mixture

Ingestion, oxidative stress

Browne et al. (2013)

Arenicola marina

400–1300 μm PS

0, 1, 10, 100 g L−1

Ingestion, reduced feeding, weight loss

Besseling et al. (2013)

Fan worm (Galeolaria caespitosa)

3–10 µm

5 microspheres µL−1

Ingestion

Bolton and Havenhand (1998)

Galeolaria caespitosa

3 and 10 µm PS

635, 2,240, 3,000 beads mL−1

Ingestion, size selection, egestion

Cole et al. (2013)

Mud worms (Marenzelleria spp.)

10 μm PS

2,000 mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Phylum Mollusca

Class Bivalvia

Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis)

30 nm PS

0, 0.1, 0.2, and 0.3 g L−1

Ingestion, pseudofaeces, reduced filtering

Wegner et al. (2012)

Mytilus edulis

0−80 μm HDPE

2.5 g L−1

Ingestion, retention in digestive tract, transferred to lymph system, immune response

von Moos et al. (2012)

Köhler (2010)

Mytilus edulis

0.5 μm PS

50 µL per 400 ml seawater

Ingestion, trophic transfer → Carcinus maenas

Farrell and Nelson (2013)

Mytilus edulis

3, 9.6 µm

0.51 g L−1

Ingestion, retention in digestive tract, transferred to lymph system

Browne et al. (2008)

Mytilus edulis

10 µm PS

2 × 104 mL−1

Ingestion, egestion

Ward and Tagart (1989)

1,000 mL−1

Ward and Kach (2009)

Mytilus edulis

10, 30 µm PS

3.10 × 105 mL−1

Ingestion

Claessens et al. (2013)

8.65 × 104 mL−1

Bay mussel (Mytilus trossulus)

10 µm PS

/

Ingestion

Ward et al. (2003)

Atlantic Sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus)

15, 10, 16, 18, 20 μm PS

1.05 mL−1

Ingestion, retention, egestion

Brilliant and MacDonald (2000, 2002)

Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica)

10 µm PS

1,000 mL−1

Ingestion, egestion

Ward and Kach (2009)

Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas)

2, 6 µm PS

1,800 mL−1 for the 2 µm size

Increased filtration and assimilation, reduced gamete quality (sperm mobility, oocyte number and size, fecundation yield), slower larval rearing for larvae from MP exposed parents

Sussarellu et al. (2014)

200 mL−1 for the 6 µm size

Phylum Echinodermata

Class Holothuridea

Giant Californian sea cucumber (Apostichopus californicus)

10, 20 μm PS

2.4 µL−1

Ingestion, retention

Hart (1991)

Stripped sea cucumber (Thyonella gemmata)

0.25–15 mm PVC shavings, nylon line, resin pellets

10 g PVC shavings, 60 g resin pellets

Selective ingestion

Graham and Thompson (2009)

Grey sea cucumber (Holothuria (Halodeima) grisea)

Florida sea cucumber (Holothuria floridana)

2 g nylon line added to 600 mL of silica sand

Orange footed sea cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa)

Class Echinoidea

Collector urchin (Tripneustes gratilla)

32–35 μm PE

1, 10, 100, 300 mL−1

Ingestion, egestion

Kaposi et al. (2014)

Eccentric sand dollar (Dendraster excentricus)

10, 20 μm PS

2.4 µL−1

Ingestion, retention

Hart (1991)

Sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus sp.)

10, 20 μm PS

2.4 µL−1

Ingestion, retention

Hart (1991)

Class Ophiuroidea

Crevice brittlestar (Ophiopholis aculeata)

10, 20 μm PS

2.4 µL−1

Ingestion, retention

Hart (1991)

Class Asteriodea

Leather star (Dermasterias imbricata)

10, 20 μm PS

2.4 µL−1

Ingestion, retention

Hart (1991)

Phylum Arthropoda

Subphylum Crustacea

Class Maxillopoda

Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides)

20–2,000 µm

1 g L−1

Ingestion

Thompson et al. (2004)

Subclass Copepoda

Tigriopus japonicus

0.05 μm PS

9.1 × 1011 mL−1

Ingestion, egestion, mortality, decreased fecundity

Lee et al. (2013)

0.5 μm PS

9.1 × 108 mL−1

6 μm PS

5.25 × 105 mL−1

Acartia (Acanthacartia) tonsa

10–70 μm

3,000–4,000 beads mL−1

Ingestion, size selection

Wilson (1973)

Acartia spp.

10 μm PS

2,000 mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Eurytemora affinis

10 μm PS

1,000, 2,000, 10,000 mL−1

Ingestion, egestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Limnocalanus macrurus

10 μm PS

1,000, 2,000, 10,000 mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Temora longicornis

20 µm PS

100 mL−1

Ingestion 10.7 ± 2.5 beads per individual

Cole et al. (2014a)

Calanus helgolandicus

20 µm PS

75 mL−1

Egestion, ingestion

Cole et al. (2014b)

Class Malacostraca

Orchestia gammarellus

20–2000 µm

1 g per individual (n = 150)

Ingestion

Thompson et al. (2004)

Talitrus saltator

10–45 μm PE

10 % weight food (0.06–0.09 g dry fish food)

Ingestion, egestion after 2 h

Ugolini et al. (2013)

Allorchestes compressa

11–700 μm

0.1 g

Ingestion, egestion within 36 h

Chua et al. (2014)

Neomysis integer

10 μm PS

2,000 spheres mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Mysis relicta

10 μm PS

2,000 spheres mL−1

Ingestion, egestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

8–10 μm PS

4.0 × 104 L−1 ventilation

Ingestion through gills and gut, retention and excretion, no biological effects measured

Watts et al. (2014)

1.0 × 106 g−1 feeding

Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus)

5 mm PP fibres

10 fibres per 1 cm3 fish

Ingestion

Murray and Cowie (2011)

Nephrops norvegicus

500–600 µm PE loaded with 10 µg of PCBs

150 mg microplastics in gelatin food

Ingestion, 100 % egestion. Increase of PCB level in the tissues. Same increase for positive control. No direct effect of microplastics

Devriese et al. (2014)

Class Branchipoda

Bosmina coregoni

10 μm PS

2,000, 10,000 spheres mL−1

Ingestion

Setälä et al. (2014)

Phylum Chordata

Common goby (Pomatoschistus microps)

1–5 μm PE

18.4, 184 µg L−1

Ingestion, modulation bioavailability or biotransformation of pyrene, decreased energy, inhibited AChE activity

Oliveira et al. (2013)

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua)

2, 5 mm

/

Ingestion, egestion, 5 mm held for prolonged periods, emptying of plastics improved by food consumption additional meals

Dos Santos and Jobling (1992)

Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes)

3 mm LDPE

Ground up as 10 % of diet

Liver toxicity, pathology, hepatic stress

Rochman et al. (2013)

Oryzias latipes

PE pellets

Two months chronic exposure

Altered gene expression, decreased choriogenin regulation in males and decreased vitellogenin and choriogenin in females

Rochman et al. (2014)

Seabass larvae (Dicentrarchus labrax)

10–45 μm PE

0–105 g-1incorporated with food

Ingestion, no significant increase in growth, effect on survival of larvae. Possible gastric obstruction

Mazurais et al. (2014)

For comparison the size of ingested material increases within species

Table 10.9

Evidence of microplastic ingestion by field studies organisms

Species

Number studied

Percentage with plastic (%)

Mean number of particles per individual (±SD)

Type and size ingested (mm)

Location

Source

Phylum Mollusca

Humbolt squid (Dosidicus gigas)

30

26.7

Max: 11

Nurdles: 3–5 mm

British Columbia, Canada

Braid et al. (2012)

Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis)

45

/

3.7 per 10 g mussel

Fibres 300–1,000 µm

Belgium, The Netherlands

De Witte et al. (2014)

Mytilus edulis

36

/

0.36 (±0.07) g−1

5–25 µm

North Sea, Germany

Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen (2014)

Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas)

11

/

0.47 (±0.16) g−1

5–25 µm

Atlantic Ocean

Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen (2014)

Phylum Crustacea

Goosneck barnacle (Lepas spp.)

385

33.5

1–30

1.41

North Pacific

Goldstein and Goodwin (2013)

Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus)

120

83

/

/

Clyde, U.K.

Murray and Cowie (2011)

Brown shrimp (Crangon crangon)

110

/

11.5 fibres per 10 g shrimp

95 % fibres, 5 % films 300–1000 µm

Belgium

Devriese et al. (2014)

Phylum Chaetognatha

Arrow worm (Parasagitta elegans)

1

100

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Phylum Chordata

Class Mammalia

Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)

100 stomachs, 107 intestines

S:11.2

Max: 8 items

>0.1

The Netherlands

Bravo Rebolledo et al. (2013)

I: 1

Max: 7 items

Fur seal (Arctocephalus spp.)

145 scat

100

1–4 per scat

4.1

Macquarie Island, Australia

Eriksen and Burton (2003)

Class Reptilia

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

24

/

Total: 11 pellets

<5 mm

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Tourinho et al. 2010

Class Actinoptergii

Order Atheriniformes

Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia)

9

33

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Order Aulopiformes

Longnosed lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox)

144

24

2.7 (±2.0)

68.3 (±91.1)

North Pacific

Choy and Drazen (2013)

Order Beloniformes

Cololabis saira

52

*35

3.2 (±3.05)

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Order Clupeiformes

Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus)

2

100

1

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Clupea harengus

566

2

1–4

0.5–3

North Sea

Foekema et al. (2013)

Anchovy (Stolephorus commersonnii)

16

37.5

/

1.14–2.5

Alappuzha, India

Kripa et al. (2014)

Order Gadiformes

Saithe (Pollachius virens)

1

100

1

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Five-bearded rockling (Ciliata mustela)

113

0–10

/

1 mm PS

Severn Estuary, U.K.

Kartar (1976)

Whiting (Merlangius merlangus)

105

6

1–3

1.7 (±1.5)

North Sea

Foekema et al. (2013)

Merlangius merlangus

50

32

1.75 (±1.4)

2.2 (±2.3)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus)

97

6

1.0

0.7 (±0.3)

North Sea

Foekema et al. (2013)

Cod (Gadus morhua)

80

13

1–2

1.2 (±1.2)

North Sea

Foekema et al. (2013)

Blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou)

27

51.9

2.07 (±0.9)

2.0 (±2.4)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Poor cod (Trisopterus minutus)

50

40

1.95 (±1.2)

2.2 (±2.2)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Order Lampriformes

Lampris sp. (big eye)

115

29

2.3 (±1.6)

49.1 (±71.1)

North Pacific

Choy and Drazen (2013)

Lampris sp. (small eye)

24

5

5.8 (±3.9)

48.8 (±34.5)

North Pacific

Choy and Drazen (2013)

Order Myctophiformes

Hygophum reinhardtii

45

*35

1.3 (±0.71)

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Loweina interrupta

28

*35

1.0

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Myctophum aurolaternatum

460

*35

6.0 (±8.99)

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Symbolophorus californiensis

78

*35

7.2 (±8.39)

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Anderson’s lanternfish (Diaphus anderseni)

13

15.4

1

/

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Lanternfish (Diaphus fulgens)

7

28.6

1

/

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Boluin’s lanternfish (Diaphus phillipsi)

1

100

1

Longest dimension 0.5

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Coco’s lanternfish (Lobianchia gemellarii)

3

33.3

1

/

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Pearly lanternfish (Myctophum nitidulum)

25

16

1.5

Longest dimension 5.46

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Order Perciformes

White perch (Morone americana)

12

33

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Bergall (Tautogolabrus adspersus)

6

<83

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Goby (Pomatoschistus minutus)

200

0–25

/

1 mm PS

Severn estuary, U.K.

Kartar et al. (1976)

Stellifer brasiliensis

330

9.2

0.33–0.83

<1

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Dantas et al. (2012)

Stellifer stellifer

239

6.9

0.33–0.83

<1

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Dantas et al. (2012)

Eugerres brasilianus

240

16.3

1–5

1–5

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Ramos et al. (2012)

Eucinostomus melanopterus

141

9.2

1–5

1–5

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Ramos et al. (2012)

Diapterus rhombeus

45

11.1

1–5

1–5

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Ramos et al. (2012)

Horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus)

100

1

1.0

1.52

North Sea

Foekema et al. (2013)

Trachurus trachurus

56

28.6

1.5 (±0.7)

2.2 (±2.2)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Yellowtail amberjack (Seriola lalandi)

19

10.5

1

0.5–10

North Pacific

Gassel et al. (2013)

Dragonet (Callionymus lyra)

50

38

1.79 (±0.9)

2.2 (±2.2)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Red band fish (Cepola macrophthalma)

62

32.3

2.15 (±2.0)

2.0 (±1.9)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Order Pleuronectiformes

Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus)

95

2.1

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Flounder (Platichthys flesus)

/

/

/

1 mm PS

Severn estuary, U.K.

Kartar et al. (1973)

Platichthys flesus

1090

0–20.7

/

1 mm PS

Severn estuary, U.K.

Kartar et al. (1976)

Solenette (Buglossidium luteum)

50

26

1.23 (±0.4)

1.9 (±1.8)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Thickback sole (Microchirus variegatus)

51

23.5

1.58 (±0.8)

2.2 (±2.2)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Order Scorpaeniformes

Grubby (Myoxocephalus aenaeus)

47

4.2

/

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Striped searobin (Prionotus evolans)

1

100

1

0.1–3 mm PS

New England, USA

Carpenter et al. (1972)

Sea snail (Liparis liparis liparis)

220

0–25

/

1 mm PS

Severn estuary, U.K.

Kartar et al. (1976)

Red gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus)

66

51.5

1.94 (±1.3)

2.1 (±2.1)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

Order Siluriformes

Madamago sea catfish (Cathorops spixii)

60

18.3

0.47

1–4

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Possatto et al. (2011)

Catfish (Cathorops spp.)

60

33.3

0.55

1–4

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Possatto et al. (2011)

Pemecoe catfish (Sciades herzbergii)

62

17.7

0.25

1–4

Goiana estuary, Brazil

Possatto et al. (2011)

Order Stomiiformes

Astronesthes indopacificus

7

*35

1.0

1–2.79

North Pacific

Boerger et al. (2010)

Hatchetfish (Sternoptyx diaphana)

4

25

1

Longest dimension 1.58 mm

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Highlight hatchetfish (Sternoptyx pseudobscura)

6

16.7

1

Longest dimension 4.75 mm

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Pacific black dragon (Idiacanthus antrostomus)

4

25

1

Longest dimension 0.5 mm

North Pacific

Davison and Asch (2011)

Order Zeiformes

John Dory (Zeus faber)

46

47.6

2.65 (±2.5)

2.2 (±2.2)

English Channel

Lusher et al. (2013)

If mean not available range is reported. Standard deviation is reported where possible. *Represents percentage ingestion by total number of individuals, not separated by species

10.3.1.1 Planktonic Invertebrates

Microplastics can enter the very base of the marine food web via absorption. Such was observed when charged nano-polystyrene beads were absorbed into the cellulose of a marine alga (Scenedesmus spp.), which inhibited photosynthesis and caused oxidative stress (Bhattacharya et al. 2010). Microplastics can also affect the function and health of marine zooplankton (Cole et al. 2013; Lee et al. 2013). Decreased feeding was observed following ingestion of polystyrene beads by zooplankton (Cole et al. 2013). Furthermore, adult females and nauplius larvae of the copepod (Tigriopus japonicus) survived acute exposure, but increased mortality rates were observed following a two-generation chronic toxicity test (12.5 µg mL−1) (Lee et al. 2013). Although a third of gooseneck barnacle (Lepas spp.) stomachs examined contained microplastics, no adverse effect was reported for these filter feeders (Goldstein and Goodwin 2013). Interestingly, the stomachs of mass stranded Humboldt squids (Dosidicus gigas) contained plastic pellets (Braid et al. 2012). This large predatory cephalopod usually feeds at depth between 200 and 700 m. The route of uptake is unclear; the squid may have fed directly on sunken pellets, or on organisms with pellets in their digestive system.

10.3.1.2 Benthic Invertebrates

A number of benthic invertebrates have been studied under laboratory conditions to investigate the consequences of microplastic ingestion (Table 10.8). Laboratory feeding and retention trials have focused on direct exposure of invertebrates to microplastic particles (as summarised by Cole et al. 2011; Wright et al. 2013a). Exposure studies demonstrated that benthic invertebrates including lugworms (Arenicola marina), amphipods (Orchestia gammarellus) and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) feed directly on microplastics (Thompson et al. 2004; Wegner et al. 2012), and deposit-feeding sea cucumbers even selectively ingested microplastic particles (Graham and Thompson 2009).

Although microplastic uptake was recorded for a number of species, organisms appear to reject microplastics before digestion and excrete microplastics after digestion. Pseudofaeces production is a form of rejection before digestion but requires additional energetic cost. Furthermore, prolonged pseudofaeces production could lead to starvation (Wegner et al. 2012). On the other hand, polychaete worms, sea cucumbers and sea urchins are able to excrete unwanted materials through their intestinal tract without suffering obvious harm (Thompson et al. 2004; Graham and Thompson 2009; Kaposi et al. 2014). Adverse effects of microplastic ingestion were reported for lugworms: weight loss was positively correlated with concentration of spiked sediments (40–1300 µm polystyrene) (Besseling et al. 2013). Similarly, Wright et al. (2013b) recorded significantly reduced feeding activity and significantly decreased energy reserves in lugworm exposed to 5 % un-plasticised polyvinyl chloride (U-PVC). Supressed feeding reduced energy assimilation, compromising fitness. At the chronic exposure level, either fewer particles were ingested overall or a lack of protein coating on the U-PVC may have weakened particle adhesion to the worm's feeding apparatus.

Several studies have raised concern for microplastic retention and transference between organisms’ tissues. For example, microplastics were retained in the digestive tract of mussels, and transferred to the haemolymph system after three days (Browne et al. 2008). However, negative effects on individuals were not detected. Von Moos et al. (2012) tracked particles of high density polyethylene (HDPE) into the lysosomal system of mussels after three hours of exposure; particles were taken up by the gills and transferred to the digestive tract and lysosomal system, again triggering an inflammatory immune response. It should be noted, however, that while these studies succeeded in determining the pathways of microplastics in organisms the exposure concentrations used to achieve this goal exceeded those expected in the field, such that the results have to be treated with care.

Studies of microplastic ingestion by benthic invertebrates in the field are less common than laboratory studies. Murray and Cowie (2011) identified fibres of monofilament plastics that could be sourced to fibres of trawls and fragments of plastic bags in the intestines of the commercially valuable Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus). These results indicated that normal digestive processes do not eliminate some of the filaments as they cannot pass through the gastric mill system. Norway lobsters have various feeding modes, including scavenging and predation, and are not adapted to cut flexible filamentous materials (Murray and Cowie 2011). The identification of microplastics in organisms that are caught for commercial purposes and subsequently consumed whole (including guts) highlights the potential human health implications. For example, field-caught brown shrimps (Crangon crangon) (Pott 2014) and farmed and store-brought bivalves (De Witte et al. 2014; Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen 2014) had microplastics in their digestive system.

Invertebrates could be used as indicator species for environmental contamination. Species such as Nephrops are able to integrate seasonal variation in microplastic abundance, providing an accurate measure of environmental contamination (Welden, pers. comm.). Additional studies are required to understand the flux of microplastic within benthic sediments and the interaction between different species of benthic infauna feeding in/or manipulating the sediment, such as bivalves and worms. Benthic infauna could ingest and/or excrete microplastics, the individuals or their faecal pellets may in turn be ingested by secondary consumers, thus affecting higher trophic levels.

10.3.1.3 Fish

Some of the earliest studies noting ingestion of microplastics by wild-caught fish include coastal species from the USA (Carpenter et al. 1972) and the U.K. (Kartar et al. 1973, 1976). More recent studies from the NPCG reported microplastic (fibres, fragments and films) ingestion by mesopelagic fish (Boerger et al. 2010; Davison and Asch 2011; Choy and Drazen 2013). Estuarine environments and their inhabitants are also prone to plastic contamination, which is hardly surprising given the riverine input (e.g. Morritt et al. 2014). Estuarine fish affected include catfish, Ariidae, (23 % of individuals examined) and estuarine drums, Scianenidae, (7.9 % of individuals examined), which spend their entire life cycle in estuaries (Possatto et al. 2011; Dantas et al. 2012). Similarly, 13.4 % of bottom-feeding fish (Gerreidae) from a tropical estuary in northeast Brazil contained microplastics in their stomachs (Ramos et al. 2012). The authors suggested that ingestion occurred during suction feeding on biofilms.

Lusher et al. (2013) reported microplastic polymers from 10 fish species from the English Channel. Of the 504 fish examined, 37 % had ingested a variety of microplastics, the most common being polyamide and the semi-synthetic material rayon. Similarly, Boerger et al. (2010) recorded microplastics in 35 % planktivorous fish examined from the NPCG (94 % of which were plastic fragments). Fish from the northern North Sea ingested microplastics at significantly lower levels (1.2 %) compared to those from the southern North Sea (5.4 %) (Foekema et al. 2013). All the studies cited suggest direct ingestion as the prime route of exposure, either targeted as food or mistaken for prey items. No adverse effects of ingestion were reported. Consequently, studies are required to follow the route of microplastic ingestion in fish, to assess if microplastics are egested in faecal pellets as seen in invertebrates. Dos Santos and Jobling (1992) showed that microplastic beads (2 mm) were excreted quickly following ingestion, whereas larger beads (5 mm) were held for prolonged periods of time. This implies that larger items of plastic might pose a greater risk following ingestion whereas smaller microplastics are likely to be excreted along with natural faeces.

10.3.1.4 Sea Birds

Numerous studies have dealt with the ingestion of marine debris by sea birds (see Kühn et al. 2015). Microplastics and small plastic items have been isolated from birds targeted deliberately for dietary studies, dead cadavers, regurgitated samples and faeces (Table 10.10). Nearly 50 species of Procellariiformes (fulmars, petrels, shearwaters, albatrosses), known to feed opportunistically at the sea surface had microplastics in their stomachs. Ingested microplastics appeared to comprise primarily of pellets and user-fragments (Ryan 1987; Robards et al. 1995) although there was a decrease in the proportion of pellets ingested by birds from the south Atlantic between the 1980s and 2006 (Ryan 2008). This trend is also true for short-tailed shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) from the North Sea (Vlietstra and Parga 2002). In this case however, the mass of industrial plastics (pellets) have decreased by half and the mass of plastic fragments has tripled (van Franeker et al. 2011). It is possible that the shift in the type of plastic consumed may be explained by fragmentation of larger user-plastics into smaller microplastics, the accumulation of user-plastic over time and a decreased disposal of industrial plastics (Thompson et al. 2004), or simply by a stronger awareness of the presence of microplastics.
Table 10.10

Evidence of microplastic ingestion by seabirds mean (±SD unless * = SE)

Species

Number studied

Percentage with plastic (%)

Mean number of particles per individual

Type and mean size ingested (mm)

Location

Source

Order Procellariiformes

Family Procellariidae

Kerguelen petrel (Aphrodroma brevirostris)

26

3.8

1

Pellet

North Island, New Zealand

Reid (1981)

Aphrodroma brevirostris

13

8

0.2

Pellets max. mass: 0.0083 g

Gough Island, U.K.

South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Aphrodroma brevirostris

63

22.2

/

20 % pellet

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Aphrodroma brevirostris

28

7

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)

7

42.8

/

Pellets 46 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Calonectris diomedea

147

24.5

Stomach = 2

Beads 63.7 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Gizzard = 3.1

Calonectris diomedea

5

100

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Calonectris diomedea

85

83

8 (±7.9)

3.9 (±3.5)

Canary Islands, Spain

Rodríguez et al. (2012)

Calonectris diomedea

49

96

14.6 (±24.0)

2.5 (±6.0a)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Cape petrel (Daption capense)

18

83.3

/

Pellets 48 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Daption capense

30

33

1.0

5.0

Ardery Island, Antarctica

van Franeker and Bell (1988)

Daption capense

105

14

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

3

100

7.6

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Fulmarus glacialis

79

92

11.9

Pellets 50 %

The Netherlands, Arctic

van Franeker (1985)

Fulmarus glacialis

8

50

3.9

Pellets

St. Kilda, U.K.

Furness (1985a)

Fulmarus glacialis

13

92.3

10.6

Pellets

Foula, U.K.

Furness (1985a)

Fulmarus glacialis

1

100

1

Pellet, 4 mm

Oregon, USA

Bayer and Olson (1988)

Fulmarus glacialis

44

86.4

Stomach = 3

Beads 91.9 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Gizzard = 14

Fulmarus glacialis

19

84.2

Max: 26

Pellets 36 %

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Fulmarus glacialis

3

100

7.7

Pellets 48 %

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Fulmarus glacialis

15

36

3.6 (±2.7)

7 (±4.0)

Davis Strait, Canadian Arctic

Mallory et al. (2006)

Fulmarus glacialis

1295

95

14.6 (±2.0*)–33.2 (±3.3*)

>1.0

North Sea

van Franeker et al. (2011)

Fulmarus glacialis

67

92.5

36.8 (±9.8*)

>0.5

Eastern North Pacific

Avery-Gomm et al. (2012)

Fulmarus glacialis

58

79

6.0 (±0.9*)

>1.0

Westfjords, Iceland

Kühn and van Franeker (2012)

Fulmarus glacialis

176

93

26.6 (±37.5)

Fragments and pellets

Nova Scotia, Canada

Bond et al. (2014)

Antarctic fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides)

84

2

/

Fragments and pellets 2–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Fulmarus glacialoides

9

79

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea)

27

100

/

Pellets

New Zealand

Reid (1981)

Halobaena caerulea

74

85.1

/

Pellets 69 %

Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Halobaena caerulea

62

56

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Prions Pachyptila spp.

/

/

/

Pellets

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Bourne and Imber (1982)

Salvin’s prion (Pachyptila salvini)

663

20

/

Pellets 2.5–3.5 mm

Wellington, New Zealand

Harper and Fowler (1987)

Pachyptila salvini

31

51.6

/

Pellets 49 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Thin-billed prion (Pachyptila belcheri)

152

6.6

/

Pellets 2.5–3.5 mm

Wellington, New Zealand

Harper and Fowler (1987)

Pachyptila belcheri

32

68.7

/

Pellets 38 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Broad-billed prion (Pachyptila vittata)

31

39

0.6

Pellets max mass: 0.066

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Pachyptila vittata

310

16.5

/

Pellets 2.5–3.5 mm

Wellington, New Zealand

Harper and Fowler (1987)

Pachyptila vittata

137

20.4

/

56 % pellet

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Pachyptila vittata

69

10

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Pachyptila vittata

149

/

1987–1989

Pellets 43.6 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b1.73 ± 3.58

Pachyptila vittata

86

/

1999

Pellets 37.3 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b2.93 ± 3.80

Pachyptila vittata

95

/

2004

Pellets 15.4 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b2.66 ± 5.34

Antarctic prion (Pachyptila desolata)

35

14.3

/

Pellets 2.5–3.5 mm

Wellington, New Zealand

Harper and Fowler (1987)

Pachyptila desolata

88

47.7

/

Pellets 53 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Pachyptila desolata

2

100

1.0

6–8.1 mm

Heard Island, Australia

Auman et al. (2004)

Fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur)

105

96.2

/

Pellets 2.5–3.5 mm

Wellington, New Zealand

Harper and Fowler (1987)

Snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea)

363

1

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis)

193

/

1983-1985

Pellets 38.2 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987, 2008)

b1.66 (±3.04)

Procellaria aequinoctialis

526

/

2005–2006

16.2 % pellets

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b1.39 (±3.25)

Procellaria aequinoctialis

41

/

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Procellaria aequinoctialis

34

44

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2010)

Spectacled petrel (Procellaria conspicillata)

3

33

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuno et al. (2010)

Procellaria conspicillata

9

/

/

<10

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Tahiti petrel (Pseudobulweria rostrata)

121

<1

1

Fragments

Tropical, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Atlantic petrel (Pterodroma incerta)

13

8

0.1

Pellets max mass: 0.0053 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Pterodroma incerta

20

5

/

Pellets

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Great-winged petrel (Pterodroma macroptera)

13

7.6

/

Pellets

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis)

29

20.6

/

Pellets 22 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Pterodroma mollis

18

6

0.1

Pellets max. mass: 0.014 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Juan Fernández petrel (Pterodroma externa)

183

<1

1

Pellets 3–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

White-necked petrel (Pterodroma cervicalis)

12

8.3

5

Fragments 3–4 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Pycroft’s petrel (Pterodroma pycrofti)

5

40

2.5 (±0.7)

Fragments Pellets 3–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

White-winged petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera)

110

11.8

2.2 (±3.0)

Fragments 2–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Collared petrel (Pterodroma brevipes)

3

66.7

1

Pellets 2–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Black-winged petrel (Pterodroma nigripenni)

66

4.5

3.0 (±3.5)

Fragments 3–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Stejneger’s petrel (Pterodroma longirostris)

46

73.9

6.8 (± 8.6)

Fragments and pellets 2–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Audubon’s shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri)

119

5

Stomach = 1

Beads 50 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Gizzard = 4.4

Little shearwater (Puffinus assimilis)

13

8

0.8

Pellets max. mass: 0.12 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Buller’s shearwater (Puffinus bulleri)

3

100

8.5 (±8.6)

Fragments and pellets 2–8 mm

Tropical, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Pink-footed shearwater (Puffinus creatopus)

5

20

2.2

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Great shearwater (Puffinus gravis)

24

100

/

Beads

Briar Island, Nova Scotia

Brown et al. (1981)

Puffinus gravis

13

85

12.2

Pellets max. mass: 1.13 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Puffinus gravis

55

63.6

Stomach = 1

Beads 91.2 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Gizzard = 13.2

Puffinus gravis

50

66

1983–1985

Pellets 64.3 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan ( 1987, 2008)

b16.5 (±19.0)

Puffinus gravis

53

/

2005–2006

Pellets 11.3 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b11.8 (±18.9)

Puffinus gravis

19

89

/

<10 mm

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Puffinus gravis

6

100

/

Pellets < 3.2–5.3 mm

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Puffinus gravis

84

88

11.8 (±16.9)

Fragments and pellets

Nova Scotia, Canada

Bond et al. (2014)

Sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

21

43

5.05

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Puffinus griseus

5

100

/

Beads

Briar Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Brown et al. (1981)

Puffinus griseus

36

58.3

11.4 (±12.2)

Fragments and pellets 3–20 mm

Tropical, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Puffinus griseus

218

88.5

/

Pellets 25.4 %

Offshore, North Pacific

Ogi (1990)

Puffinus griseus

20

75

3.4

Pellets 38 %

Offshore eastern North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Puffinus griseus

50

72

2.48 (±2.7)

Fragments and pellets

Nova Scotia, Canada

Bond et al. (2014)

Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)

46

70

2.5 (±2.9)

3.5 (±10.5a)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis)

5

40

1

Pellet 3–5 mm

Tropical, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Fragment 4 mm

Wedge-tailed shearwater (Puffinus pacificus) dark phase

23

4

2.5 (±2.1)

Fragments

Tropical, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

62

24.2

3.5 (±2.7)

Fragments and pellets

Puffinus pacificus

20

60

Max: 11

Pellets 2–4 mm

Hawaii, USA

Fry et al. (1987)

Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

10

30

0.4

Pellets

Rhum, U.K.

Furness (1985a)

Puffinus puffinus

25

60

/

<10 mm

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Puffinus puffinus

6

17

/

Fragments

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Colabuono et al. (2009)

Short-tailed shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris)

6

100

19.8

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Puffinus tenuirostris

324

81.8

/

Pellets 67.2 %

Offshore, North Pacific

Ogi (1990)

Puffinus tenuirostris

330

83.9

5.8 (±0.4*)

Pellets 2–5 mm

Bering Sea, North Pacific

Vlietstra and Parga (2002)

Puffinus tenuirostris

5

80

/

Fragments and pellets

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. 1995

Puffinus tenuirostris

99

100

15.1 (±13.2)

>2 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Yamashita et al. (2011)

Puffinus tenuirostris

129

67

Adults: 4.5

Fragments 0.97–80.8 mm

North Stradbroke Island, Australia

Acampora et al. (2013)

Juvenile: 7.1

Puffinus tenuirostris

12

100

27

>2 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Tanaka et al. (2013)

Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan)

31

71

4.9 (±7.3)

4.0 (±13.0a)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica)

184

<1

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990

Family Hydrobatidae

White-bellied storm petrel (Fregetta grallaria)

13

38

1.2

Pellets max. mass: 0.042 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Fregetta grallaria

296

<1

1

Fragment

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Fregetta grallaria

318

/

1987–89

Pellets 33.3 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b0.63 ± 1.13

Fregetta grallaria

137

/

1999

Pellets 20.9 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b0.63 ± 1.37

Fregetta grallaria

95

/

2004

Pellets 16.2 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b0.72 ± 1.87

Grey-backed storm petrel (Garrodia nereis)

11

27

0.3

Pellets max. mass: 0.010 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Garrodia nereis

12

8.3

/

Pellets

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Fork-tailed storm petrel (Oceanodroma furcata)

/

/

/

<5 mm

Aleutian Islands, USA

Ohlendorf et al. (1978)

Oceanodroma furcata

21

85.7

Max.: 12

Pellets 22 %

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Oceanodroma furcata

7

100

20.1

Pellets 16 %

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Leach’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)

15

40

1.66 (±1.2)

2–5 mm

Newfoundland, Canada

Rothstein (1973)

Oceanodroma leucorhoa

17

58.8

2.9

Pellets

St. Kilda, U.K.

Furness (1985a)

Oceanodroma leucorhoa

354

19.8

3.5 (±2.6)

Fragments and pellets 2–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Oceanodroma leucorhoa

64

48.4

Max.: 13

Monofilament line, fragments, pellets

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Wilson’s storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

20

75

4.4

2.9 mm

Ardery Island, Antarctica

van Franeker and Bell (1988)

Oceanites oceanicus

91

19

/

Fragments and pellets 3–6 mm

Antarctica

Ainley et al. (1990)

Oceanites oceanicus

133

38.3

Stomach = 1.4

26 % beads

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Gizzard = 5.4

White-faced storm petrel (Pelagodroma marina)

19

84

11.7

Pellets max. mass: 0.34 g

Gough Island, U.K. South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Pelagodroma marina

15

73.3

13.2 ± 9.5

Pellets 2–5 mm

Offshore, North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Pelagodroma marina

24

20.8

/

Pellets 41 %

Southern Hemisphere

Ryan (1987)

Pelagodroma marina

253

 

1987–89

Pellets 69.6 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b3.98 ± 5.45

Pelagodroma marina

86

/

1999

Pellets 37.5 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b4.06 ± 5.93

Pelagodroma marina

5

/

2004

Pellets 13.5 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (2008)

b2.52 ± 4.43

Family Diomedeidae

Sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca)

73

42.7

/

Pellets 34 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)

/

52

/

Pellets 2–5 mm

Hawaiian Islands, USA

Sileo et al. (1990)

Black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

/

12

/

Pellets 2–5 mm

Hawaiian Islands, USA

Sileo et al. (1990)

Phoebastria nigripes

3

100

5.3

Pellets 50 %

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)

2

100

3

Pellets 50 %

Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Tourinho et al. (2010)

Order Charadriiformes

Family Laridae

Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii)

15

13

49.3 (±77.7)

2.5 (±5.0*)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens)

589 boluses

12.2

/

<10 mm

Protection Island, USA

Lindborg et al. (2012)

Heermann’s Gull (Larus heermanni)

15

7

1

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus)

4

25

3.7 (±7.5)

3.0 (±5.0*)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Yellow-legged gull) (Larus michahellis)

12

33

0.9 (±1.5)

2.0 (±8.0*)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris)

15

26.7

/

Pellets 5 %

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Mean size: 5.87 mm

Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

8

8

4.0

Pellets 1–4 mm

California, USA

Baltz and Morejohn (1976)

Rissa tridactyla

256

7.8

Max.: 15

Pellets 5 %

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Rissa tridactyla

4

50

1.2 (±1.9)

3.0 (±5.0*)

Catalan coast, Mediterranean

Codina-García et al. (2013)

Family Alcidae

Parakeet auklet (Aethia psittacula)

/

/

/

<5 mm

Aleutians Islands, USA

Ohlendorf et al. (1978)

Aethia psittacula

208

93.8

17.1

Pellets > 80 %

4.08 mm

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)

489

24.5

Max.: 51

Pellets 90 %

4.10 mm

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Fratercula cirrhata

9

89

3.3

Pellets 43 %

Offshore, North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Horned puffin (Fratercula corniculata)

/

/

/

<5 mm

Aleutian Islands, USA

Ohlendorf et al. (1978)

Fratercula corniculata

120

36.7

Max.:14

Pellets 40 %

5.03 mm

Alaska, USA

Robards et al. (1995)

Fratercula corniculata

2

50

1.5

Pellets

Offshore, North Pacific

Blight and Burger (1997)

Common murre (Uria aalge)

1

100

2011–2012

1

6.6 (±2.2)

Newfoundland, Canada

Bond et al. (2013)

Thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia)

186

11

0.2 (±0.8)

4.5 (±3.8)

Canadian Arctic

Provencher et al. (2010)

Uria lomvia

3

100

2011–2012

1

6.6 (±2.2)

Newfoundland, Canada

Bond et al. (2013)

Uria lomvia

1249

7.7

1985–1986

0.14 (±0.7*)

10.1 (±7.4)

Newfoundland, Canada

Bond et al. (2013)

Family Stercorariidae

Brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus)

494

22.7

/

Pellets 67 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Tristan skua (Stercorarius hamiltoni)

11

9

0.3

Max.: 3

Pellets

Max. mass: 0.064 g

Gough Island, U.K.

South Atlantic

Furness (1985b)

Long-tailed skua (Stercorarius longicaudus)

2

50

5

Fragments and pellets

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Arctic skua (Stercorarius parasiticus)

2

50

/

Pellets 50 %

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Family Scolopacidae

Grey phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

20

100

Max.: 36

Beads 1.7–4.4 mm

California, USA

Bond (1971)

Phalaropus fulicarius

7

85.7

5.7

Pellets

California, USA

Connors and Smith (1982)

Phalaropus fulicarius

2

50

/

Pellets

Breeding grounds, Southern Ocean

Ryan (1987)

Phalaropus fulicarius

55

69.1

Stomach = 1

Gizzard = 6.7

Beads 16.7 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)

36

19.4

Stomach = 0

Gizzard = 3.7

Beads 16.7 %

North Carolina, USA

Moser and Lee (1992)

Family Sternidae

Sooty tern (Onychoprion fuscatus)

64

1.6

2

Pellets 4 mm

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

White tern (Gygis alba)

8

12.5

5

Fragments 3–4 mm

Offshore, eastern North Pacific

Spear et al. (1995)

Order Suliformes

Family Phalacrocoracidae

Macquarie Shag (Phalacrocorax (atriceps) purpurascens)

64 boluses

7.8

1 per bolus

Polystyrene spheres

Macquarie Island, Australia

Slip et al. (1990)

aMedian (±0.8) 95 % confidence intervals. Plastics found in total of 28 % birds

bThis is total mean abundance of plastics, including pellets and user fragments; sizes of pellets are assumed to be 2–5 mm, according to recent literature

Seabirds appear to be able to remove microplastics from their digestive tracts as regurgitation has been observed in the boluses of glaucous-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) (Lindborg et al. 2012). However, this suggests that parents expose their offspring to plastics during feeding. Juveniles of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) had more plastic in their intestines than adults (Kühn and van Franeker 2012), with higher quantities in areas of higher fishing and shipping traffic (van Franeker et al. 2011). Still, as the majority of birds examined did not die as a direct result of microplastic uptake, it can be concluded that microplastic ingestion does not affect seabirds as severely as macroplastic ingestion. To date, there have been no studies demonstrating nanometre-sized microplastics in sea birds. This could be because it is extremely difficult to control laboratory conditions in terms of contamination.

10.3.1.5 Marine Mammals

Only one study on microplastic ingestion by marine mammals has been published to date. Bravo Rebolledo et al. (2013) recorded microplastics in stomachs (11 %, n = 100) and intestines (1 %, n = 107) of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). Direct microplastic ingestion by other species of marine mammals has not been observed. However, larger plastics items were identified in the stomachs of numerous cetaceans (46 % of all species; Baulch and Perry 2014, see also Kühn et al. 2015). The frequency of microplastic uptake by marine mammals is hitherto unknown, but could occur through filter feeding, inhalation at the water-air interface, or via trophic transfer from prey items. As baleen whales (Mysticetes) strain water between baleen plates, to trap planktonic organisms and small fish (Nemoto 1970), they may incidentally trap microplastics. Thus, their feeding mode may render baleen whales more susceptible to direct microplastic ingestion than toothed (Odotocetes) or beaked whales (Ziphiids) which are active predators of squid and fish (Pauly et al. 1998). It is also likely that marine mammals are exposed to microplastic via trophic transfer from prey species. For example, microplastics were recorded from the scats of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) believed to originate from lantern fish (Electrona subaspera) (Eriksson and Burton 2003).

Cetaceans were suggested as sentinels for microplastic pollution (Fossi et al. 2012a; Galgani et al. 2014). However, it is notoriously difficult to extract and subsequently assess microplastics from cetacean stomachs, the often large size and decomposition rate of stomachs make sampling almost impossible. Furthermore, strandings are infrequent and unpredictable. Although adaption of sampling methods for smaller organisms such as fish and birds have the potential to be implemented, further work is necessary. The assessment of phthalate concentrations in the blubber of stranded fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) (Fossi et al. 2012b, 2014) could serve as an indicator for the uptake of microplastics, but this raises other concerns as it is not possible to distinguish the origin of the phthalates. Exposure routes could be via micro- or macroplastics or simply from direct uptake of chemicals from the surrounding seawater into the blubber. Further work is essential to assess if microplastics significantly affect marine mammals.

10.3.1.6 Sea Turtles

Although all species of marine turtle ingest macroplastics (Derraik 2002; Schuyler et al. 2014; Kühn et al. 2015), only one study reported plastic pellets in the stomachs of the herbivorous green turtles (Chelonia mydas) (Tourinho et al. 2010). It is highly likely that other species of sea turtle also ingest microplastics incidentally or directly, depending on their feeding habits (Schuyler et al. 2014). Neonatal and oceanic post-hatchlings are generalist feeders (Bjorndal 1997), targeting plankton from surface waters and microplastic uptake may occur. Trophic transfer from prey items could be a pathway to larger individuals; loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) turtles are carnivores, feeding on crustaceans and bivalves (Bjorndal 1997), which ingest microplastics (e.g. Browne et al. 2008). Flatbacks (Natator depressa) are also carnivores but feed on soft bodied invertebrates (Bjorndal 1997), including sea cucumbers, which again, ingest microplastics (Graham and Thompson 2009). Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) feed on gelatinous organisms (Bjorndal 1997) and are thus more likely to ingest macroplastics because of their size and similarity to prey items. If microplastics are ingested they could affect sea turtle growth and development if they are not egested. Additional work is required to understand whether turtles actively ingest microplastics, and if so, the extent of the harm caused.

10.3.2 Trophic Transfer

Absorption and ingestion of microplastics by organisms from the primary trophic level, e.g. phytoplankton and zooplankton, could be a pathway into the food chain (Bhattacharya et al. 2010). Many species of zooplankton undergo a diurnal migration. Migrating zooplankton could be considered a vector of microplastic contamination to greater depths of the water column and its inhabitants, either through predation or the production of faecal pellets sinking to the seafloor (Wright et al. 2013a). Only a few studies deal with the potential for microplastics to be transferred between trophic levels following ingestion. Field observation highlighted the presence of microplastics in the scat of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) and Eriksson and Burton (2003) suggested that microplastics had initially been ingested by the fur seals’ prey, the plankton feeding Mycophiids. In feeding experiments, Farrell and Nelson (2013) identified microplastic in the gut and haemolymph of the shore crab (Carcinus maenas), which had previously been ingested by blue mussels (Mytilus edulis). There was large variability in the number of microspheres in tissues samples, and the results have to be treated with caution as the number of individuals was low and the exposure levels used exceeded those from the field. Similarly, Nephrops-fed fish, which had been seeded with microplastic strands of polypropylene rope were found to ingest but not to excrete the strands (Murray and Cowie 2011), again implying potential trophic transfer. As mentioned above, microplastics were also detected in cod, whiting, haddock, bivalves and brown shrimp, which are consumed by humans and raises concerns about trophic transfer to humans and human exposure (see Galloway 2015). Further studies are required to increase our understanding of trophic transfer.

10.3.3 Microplastic Effect on Habitats

Surfaces of buoyant microplastics provide habitats for rafting organisms. For example, pelagic insects (Halobates micans and H. sericeus) utilize microplastic pellets for oviposition (Goldstein et al. 2012; Majer et al. 2012). Indeed, Goldstein et al. (2012) attributed an overall increase in H. sericeus and egg densities in the NPCG to high concentrations of microplastics. Likewise, plastics serve as a floating habitat for bacterial colonisation (Lobelle and Cunliffe 2011). Microorganisms including Bacillus bacteria (mean: 1664 ± 247 individuals mm−2) and pennate diatoms (mean: 1097 ± 154 individuals mm−2) were identified on plastic items from the North Pacific gyre (Carson et al. 2013). These studies suggest that microplastics affect the distribution and dispersal of marine organisms and may represent vectors to alien invasion. Plastics colonised by pathogenic viruses or bacteria may spread the potential for disease, but there is currently no evidence to support this hypothesis.

Microplastic buried in sediments could have fundamental impacts on marine biota as they increase the permeability of sediment and decrease thermal diffusivity (Carson et al. 2011). This may affect temperature-dependent processes. For example, altered temperatures during incubation can bias the sex ratios of sea turtle eggs. At 30 °C, equal numbers of males and female embryos develop, whereas at temperatures <28 °C all embryos become male (Yntema and Mrosovsky 1982). With microplastics in sediments it will take longer to reach maximum temperatures because of its increased permeability. Therefore, eggs may require a longer incubation period, with more male hatchlings because of the insulating effect. Microplastic concentrations as low as 1.5 can decrease maximum temperatures by 0.75 °C (Carson et al. 2011), which has important implications for sexual bias in sea turtles including loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) (Yntema and Mrosovsky 1982; Mrosovsky et al. 1992). Changes in the sediment temperatures could also affect infaunal organisms as it may affect enzymatic and other physiological processes, feeding and growth rates, locomotory speeds, reproduction and ultimately population dynamics. However, this remains speculative until further researched.

10.3.4 Summary

Microplastic ingestion has been documented for a range of marine vertebrates and invertebrates (Fig. 10.1). Interactions were recorded primarily during controlled laboratory studies, but results from field sampling of wild populations also indicate microplastic ingestion. In the case of some invertebrates, adverse physiological and biological effects were reported. The biological repercussions depend on to the size of microplastics with smaller sizes having greater effects on organisms at the cellular level. In the micrometre range, plastics are readily ingested and egested whereas nanometre-sized plastics can pass through cell membranes. Acute exposure experiments demonstrated significant biological effects including weight loss, reduced feeding activity, increased phagocytic activity and transference to the lysosomal (storage) system. Larger microplastics (2–5 mm) may take longer to pass from the stomachs of organisms and could be retained in the digestive system, potentially increasing the exposure time to adsorbed toxins (see Rochman 2015).
Fig. 10.1

Microplastic interactions in the marine environment including environmental links (solid arrows) and biological links (broken arrows), which highlights potential trophic transfer (Photos of microplastics: A. Lusher)

It is important to determine the ecological effects of microplastic ingestion. Studies are required to assess the contamination of more species of fish, marine mammals and sea turtles, as well as consequences of microplastic uptake and retention. Further research is necessary to determine the limits of microplastic translocation between tissues, and assess the differences between multiple polymer types and shapes. It is likely that additional species of invertebrate ingest microplastics in wild populations, as fibres and fragments found in the field are actively selected in experiments. Although some organisms appear to be able to differentiate between microplastics and prey, and microplastic excretion has been recorded. Without knowledge of retention and egestion rates of field populations, it is difficult to deduce ecological consequences. There is some evidence to suggest that microplastics enter the food chain and transfer of microplastics between trophic levels implies bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Despite concerns raised by ingestion in the marine environment, the effects of microplastic ingestion in natural populations and the implications for food webs are not understood. Such knowledge is crucial in order to be able to develop and implement effective management strategies (Thompson et al. 2009). Additional studies are required to understand the flux of microplastic from benthic sediments to the infauna. Lastly, microplastics provide open ocean habitats for colonisation by invertebrates, bacteria and viruses. As a result, these organisms can be transported over large distances by ocean currents and/or through the water column (Kiessling et al. 2015).

10.4 Conclusion

Microplastics have been found in almost every marine habitat around the world, and plastic density along with ocean currents appears to have a significant effect on their distribution. Modelling studies suggest that floating debris accumulates in ocean gyres but this is dependent on the composition and shape of individual polymers. The widespread distribution and accumulation of microplastics raises concerns regarding the interaction and potential effects of microplastics on marine organisms. As microplastics interact with plankton and sediments, both suspension and deposit feeders may accidentally or selectively ingest microplastics. Despite concerns regarding ingestion, only a limited number of studies examined microplastic ingestion in the field. Knowledge of the retention rates of microplastics would enable estimations of the impacts of microplastic uptake. If rejection occurs before digestion, microplastics might pose less of a threat to organisms than initially assumed. However, there could be energetic costs associated with the production of pseudofaeces. Laboratory studies can be used to determine the end point of microplastic ingestion, and would benefit from using multiple types of microplastics to simulate field conditions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to establish a direct link between microplastics and adverse effects on marine biota experimentally. Furthermore, due to the difficult nature of field studies, it will be harder to understand effects on natural populations.

As microplastic research is still in its infancy, there are many more unanswered questions, the answers to which are required to build on current knowledge to develop a clearer picture of the impact of microplastics in the sea.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Calculated from km−2.

  2. 2.

    Calculated from 1.334 particles m−2.

  3. 3.

    Calculated from 0.062 particles m−2.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Emily Lorch, Julia Hemprich, Chelsea Rochman, Rick Officer and Ian O’Connor for their useful comments on an earlier draft. Bart Koelmans and an anonymous reviewer improved an earlier version of the manuscript. Marta Bolgan for the illustrations in Fig. 10.1. The author was awarded an Irish Research Council postgraduate scholarship [Project ID: GOIPG/2013/284] and a Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology 40th Anniversary studentship to conduct her Ph.D. research.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine and Freshwater Research CentreGalway-Mayo Institute of TechnologyGalwayIreland

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