Microplastics - A macro problem?
Plastics are widespread globally, with their persistence leading to long-term ecosystem exposure and accumulation within the environment. Despite their durability, over time large items fragment to form small particles: ‘microplastics’. Microplastics have now been found globally, from deep sea sediments to sea ice cores and remote mountain tops. In recent years microplastics research has rapidly progressed, from simply identifying the presence of microplastics within environmental samples, to determining sources, abundances, chemical associations and ecological effects. Microplastics have been observed to cause harm to a range of organisms, with effects ranging from alteration of behaviour and inhibited reproduction to mortality. Hence there is the potential for large-scale ecosystem effects as a result of chronic environmental exposure. Further, concerns have also been raised about the potential human exposure to microplastics, and associated risks. However, despite concerted research efforts, this is still a relatively new research area and thus many questions still remain. There is therefore a critical need to grow our understanding of microplastics: their behaviour, fate and chemical associations, in order to determine the real hazards they pose for ecosystems.