Abundance and characteristics of microplastics in beach sediments: Insights into microplastic accumulation in northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries

Caitlin C Wessel, Grant R Lockridge, David Battiste, Just Cebrian
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2016 August 15, 109 (1): 178-183
Microplastics (plastic debris smaller than 5mm) represent a growing concern worldwide due to increasing amounts of discarded trash. We investigated microplastic debris on sandy shorelines at seven locations in a northern Gulf of Mexico estuary (Mobile Bay, AL) during the summer of 2014. Microplastics were ubiquitous throughout the area studied at concentrations 66-253× larger than reported for the open ocean. The polymers polypropylene and polyethylene were most abundant, with polystyrene, polyester and aliphatic polyamide also present but in lower quantities. There was a gradient in microplastic abundance, with locations more directly exposed to marine currents and tides having higher microplastic abundance and diversity, as well as a higher contribution by denser polymers (e.g. polyester). These results indicate that microplastic accumulation on shorelines in the northern Gulf of Mexico may be a serious concern, and suggest that exposure to inputs from the Gulf is an important determinant of microplastic abundance.

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