Microplastics in coastal and marine environments of the western tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic Ocean

Monica F Costa, Mário Barletta
Environmental Science. Processes & Impacts 2015, 17 (11): 1868-79
Microplastic pollution is a global issue. It is present even in remote and pristine coastal and marine environments, likely causing impacts of unknown scale. Microplastics are primary- and secondary-sourced plastics with diameters of 5 mm or less that are either free in the water column or mixed in sandy and muddy sediments. Since the early 1970s, they have been reported to pollute marine environments; recently, concern has increased as soaring amounts of microplastics in the oceans were detected and because the development of unprecedented processes involving this pollutant at sea is being unveiled. Coastal and marine environments of the western tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic Ocean (WTAO) are contaminated with microplastics at different quantities and from a variety of types. The main environmental compartments (water, sediments and biota) are contaminated, but the consequences are still poorly understood. Rivers and all scales of fishery activities are identified as the most likely sources of this pollutant to coastal waters; however, based on the types of microplastics observed, other maritime operations are also possible sources. Ingestion by marine biota occurs in the vertebrate groups (fish, birds, and turtles) in these environments. In addition, the presence of microplastics in plankton samples from different habitats of estuaries and oceanic islands is confirmed. The connectivity among environmental compartments regarding microplastic pollution is a new research frontier in the region.

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