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Investigation of Sources and Pathways of Microplastic Pollution into the Marine Environment - ME5435

Microplastics are a type of marine plastic pollution now widely distributed in aquatic habitats. The evidence base on the effects of micro-plastics in the marine environment is limited. However, they do not biodegrade, they accumulate in the marine environment, they can absorb toxic chemicals and pathogens, and their small size means they have the potential to be ingested by marine organisms.

Following the decision to implement legislation to ban one of the sources of microplastics (microbeads in personal care products), further evidence was required on other microplastic sources and microfibers. This was one of the key recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee’s response to the enquiry on the Environmental Impact of Microplastics. Reduction of microplastics is also a requirement under our regional seas convention (OSPAR) and the UK Marine Strategy and is a priority policy area.

As well as microbeads in personal care products other sources of microplastics such as synthetic fibres and tyre particles are also thought to be potentially significant sources of microplastic pollution. However, much of the existing evidence on the quantity and significance of alternative sources is from modelled results. For example the IUCN (a) report on sources of microplastics examined much of the primary evidence but requires modelled results to fill in knowledge gaps. Further research is required on the UK sources and pathways of these microplastic pollutants into the marine environment, including direct field studies to validate modelled information.

(a) Boucher, K. and Friot D. (2017) Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. 43pp.
This study contributed to improving our understanding of the direct sources and pathways of microplastics into the marine environment and their relative importance in the UK. The ultimate objective of the research is to provide some direct data on microplastic sources that enter the marine environment, information on their potential pathways and their distribution in the marine environment. The focus of the scope was on two sources of microplastics; synthetic fibres and tyre particles. Microbeads in personal care products were excluded from the scope because they were already subject to legislation restricting their pathway to the marine environment.

Focus was given to ensuring coverage of the following aims:
• Identify whether tyre particles are entering the marine environment and what pathway they are taking.
• Determine whether of the amount of tyre particles entering the marine environment could be quantified. Validate and compare to existing modelled results.
• Determine the key sources of synthetic fibres entering the marine environment and whether direct evidence could provide quantification from different sources. This investigated a range of fibre types including textiles, synthetics and fishing gear etc.
• Identify the key pathways for synthetic fibres entering the marine environment.
• Identify the distribution of synthetic fibres within the marine environment, considering both geographic and spatial (within water column/sediment) dispersal.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : ME5435 final report Parker-Jurd et al 2020   (2032k)
• EXE - Executive Summary : ME5435 Executive summary Parker-Jurd et al 2020   (438k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2018

To: 2019

Cost: £199,065
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University Of Plymouth Enterprise Ltd
Environmental Impact              
Natural Environment