Microplastics are the most dominant particulate contaminant identified in the global ocean.
Emerging evidence for harm to biota, ecosystems, and potentially to human health, currently makes microplastics pollution an issue of enormous concern for society. Moreover, interaction of microplastics with marine particulate organic matter can potentially alter carbon transport to the deep ocean, which has implications for global climate.
Over the past 20 years, scientists at the National Oceanography Centre have collected a large number of samples from various regions in the open ocean from surface down to seabed. The microplastics research team are quantifying and characterising microplastics in these samples to understand how offshore microplastic distribution changes in time and space. This information then helps the team track microplastics from their sources to the areas in the ocean where they tend to collect. It also helps predict future microplastics levels and the characteristics of the contamination.
The results will be invaluable for development of effective microplastics mitigation policies, should this material turn out to cause significant damage to marine ecosystem structure and function.