Bioavailability and biological effects of microscopic plastic debris in the ocean

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences

Abstract

Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic debris is discarded as waste and marine plastic litter is emerging as both a threat to the oceans and a major challenge for society to manage. Once plastic waste has entered the sea, the combined action of winds and tides leads to the fragmentation of larger plastic debris into microscopic particles. These microscopic particles have become so numerous, either floating in the ocean or accumulating in sediments and on shorelines, that they are emerging as a global conservation issue of high concern.

We have been studying what happens when microplastics are ingested by marine organisms at the lower end of the marine food web, including zooplankton that swim and feed in surface waters and marine worms that live in sediments at the ocean bottom. In our laboratory studies, ingestion of microplastics alongside food items led to reductions in body mass and reproduction. After the particles had been egested, they sank more slowly in the water column. This is important because the biomass of zooplankton and worms (so-called secondary producers) and the sinking rates of faecal pellets, are extremely important for the cycling of carbon and other nutrients in the oceans, which in turn is central to supporting all marine life.

In this proposal, we will build on these early findings to determine their significance for ocean life. We will study in detail how much microscopic plastic is actually being ingested by zooplankton collected from sites near to shorelines in UK waters. We will take samples from across a yearly cycle to understand how the abundance of plastic debris and its ingestion by zooplankton vary with seasonal cycles. We will study the factors such as size, shape and type of plastic that influence how much microplastic is consumed and the biological effects that it may have on organisms in the aquarium.

We will enter these results into models of ocean functions to predict what sites, if any, are most vulnerable to microplastics contamination and where the densities of microplastics may become comparable to those of invertebrate prey items. We will then use models to predict the impacts of this contamination on important ocean functions, such as the types of animals present and the cycling of both carbon and nutrients throughout the water column.

This project will provide important scientific results to improve our understanding of key ecological functions in the oceans, illustrate how our discarded waste materials may be capable of impacting on important ocean processes, and may highlight vulnerable sites or species that require special protection. This data will be of use to environmental managers and policy makers who are required by law to keep our seas clean and reduce the risk of direct or indirect harm to human and ocean health. Ultimately the results are important to everyone in society, and may help to build up a body of evidence to encourage us not to litter in the first place

Planned Impact

This research project has been designed with direct input from stakeholders involved in marine litter from the very start and is designed to have an impact beyond its immediate academic environment. Its influence will be principally within the academic disciplines of the applicants, ecotoxicology, molecular ecology and biogeochemical modelling of ocean processes, but will extend to the environmental risk assessment and marine sciences communities and the scientists and policy professionals concerned with environmental protection.

The main group to benefit from the results of this research will be ecotoxicologists who are concerned with understanding how environmental pollutants interact with living systems, and molecular ecologists who study the mechanisms of temporal and spatial control of gene activity and its relationship with physiological function. Scientists in these disciplines will benefit from the specific information relating to microscopic marine plastic debris, its bioaccumulation, interaction with body systems and potential to influence large scale ocean processes.

In addition, human and ecological risk assessment professionals concerned with the international regulation of chemicals and substances will be interested in the results, since the safety assessment of environmental substances requires a sound weight of scientific evidence on which to base regulatory decisions. To adequately assess the risks posed by marine litter and the chemicals that may be associated with it, we need to know about their inherent properties of the chemicals and polymeric substances themselves (hazard) and to what extent organisms come into contact with them (exposure). A better appreciation of the ways in which marine litter is processed by regulatory systems in the body and the wider influence that this may have at the population level presents a subject of huge potential interest and relevance.

This will also be of potential interest to organisations such as the Food Packaging Forum which is a charitable, non-profit organisation established to identify and communicate high quality scientific information about food contact materials, their health implications and patterns of discard and recycling, since so much of the marine litter in the environment is derived from food packaging. Individuals in the plastics industries (through organisations such as Plastics Europe) and their associated groupings, such as the Global Polymer Innovations network and related Green Chemistry initiatives are all relevant and likely to be interested, since most manufacturers are very keen to work towards reducing marine litter and would be helped with directly relevant data on what impact it may be having

Finally, those charged with implementing policies designed to protect the marine environment will be interested in the results of our research. The Marine strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) Descriptor 10: Marine Litter (see pathways to impact for more details) is implemented through the OSPAR commission (Oslo Paris Convention) and ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas). OSPAR's research priorities relating to marine litter are coordinated through the EU Technical Review Group on Marine Litter (part of the OSPAR Environmental Impact of Human Activities Committee, EIHA). The MSFD requires that all EU member states consider how Good Environmental Status (GES) for that descriptor will be achieved by 2020. Thus there is a huge policy driver to identify how marine litter and microplastics in particular may be impacting on marine life and how to set realistic targets to control marine litter. (see pathways to impact section for further details of our policy interactions).

Publications

10 25 50

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Cole M (2015) Ingestion of Nanoplastics and Microplastics by Pacific Oyster Larvae. in Environmental science & technology

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Coppock RL (2017) A small-scale, portable method for extracting microplastics from marine sediments. in Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)

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Duncan EM (2019) Microplastic ingestion ubiquitous in marine turtles. in Global change biology

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Galloway T (2017) Marine microplastics. in Current biology : CB

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Galloway T (2015) Marine Anthropogenic Litter

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Galloway T (2018) Plastics and the Environment -

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Galloway T (2016) Marine microplastics spell big problems for future generations in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

 
Description Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic debris is discarded as waste and marine plastic litter is emerging as both a threat to the oceans and a major challenge for society to manage. Once plastic waste has entered the sea, the combined action of winds and tides leads to the fragmentation of larger plastic debris into microscopic particles. These microscopic particles have become so numerous, either floating in the ocean or accumulating in sediments and on shorelines, that they are emerging as a global conservation issue of high concern. We have been studying what happens when microplastics are ingested by marine organisms at the lower end of the marine food web, including zooplankton that swim and feed in surface waters and marine worms that live in sediments at the ocean bottom. During the project, we have conducted laboratory studies at University of Exeter that show how ingestion of microplastics alongside food items can lead to reductions in body mass and reproduction in marine invertebrate organisms including those of ecological and economic importance,such as oysters and mussels (Galloway and Lewis 2016, Galloway et al 2017,Cole et al 2015, 16, 17) . After the particles have passed through the gut, they are excreted in fecal materials and can sink more slowly in the water column (Cole et al 2016, Porter et al 2018 in press). This is important because the biomass of zooplankton and worms (so-called secondary producers) and the sinking rates of faecal pellets, are extremely important for the cycling of carbon and other nutrients in the oceans, which in turn is central to supporting all marine life. We have study the factors including size, shape and type of plastic that influence how much microplastic is consumed and the biological effects that it has on organisms in the aquarium. These results have been published in high impact journals including PNAS, Nature Ecology and Evolution and Current Biology. We have put forward a proposal for how miroplastics cause toxicity to organisms based around their ability to affect feeding, energy balance and immune function (Galloway and Lewis 2016, PNAS). Determining the significance of these findings for marine life by reporting in further detail how much microscopic plastic is actually being ingested by zooplankton collected from sites near to shorelines in UK waters is ongoing work at collaborating institute Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Samples from across a yearly cycle have been collected by colleagues at PML to understand how the abundance of plastic debris and its ingestion by zooplankton varies with seasonal cycles. . These results are being entered into models of ocean functions to predict what sites, if any, are most vulnerable to microplastics contamination and where the densities of microplastics may become comparable to those of invertebrate prey items. The ultimate aim is that these models can be used to predict the impacts of this contamination on important ocean functions, such as the types of animals present and the cycling of both carbon and nutrients throughout the water column. This project has provided important scientific results to improve our understanding of key ecological functions in the oceans, illustrating how our discarded waste materials may be capable of impacting on important ocean processes. We have highlighted that planktonic include vulnerable species that require special protection. This data will be of use to environmental managers and policy makers who are required by law to keep our seas clean and reduce the risk of direct or indirect harm to human and ocean health. Ultimately the results are important to everyone in society, and may help to build up a body of evidence to encourage us not to litter in the first place
Exploitation Route They are already being used in the formulation of policy concerning the banning of microbeads from consumer items and in reducing unsustainable use and disposal of single use plastic
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail

 
Description Results from this project are cited in a UK Government POST note on Trends in the Environment in 2015 http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0516 The results to date are also cited in a UK government POST note on Marine Microplastic Pollution in 2016 .http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0528 (POST notes are intended as briefing documents to inform policymakers of the latest scientific findings in a particular field) The results to date were presented and discussed during an interview by T. Galloway with BBC News at Ten and the BBC World News on September 28th 2015 to coincide with the introduction of a charge on plastic bag use in the UK, to illustrate and provide scientific evidence of the impacts of microplastics pollution on marine life. The results to date were presented orally and in writing by T Galloway as scientific evidence of the impacts of microplastic pollution on marine life and human health to an Environmental Audit Committee hearing on Microbeads in the Marine Environment, June 2016 in the Houses of Parliament. This evidence has been used to support a change to UK legislation to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetics and certain other consumer products from 2017. The narrative of the oral evidence can be found here https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmenvaud/179/17905.htm The narrative of the written evidence can be found under E1M0009 here http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environmental-audit-committee/environmental-impact-of-microplastics/written/31767.html references cited form this grant include Cole 2013, 2014, 2015, Galloway 2015 T Galloway gave an interview discussing this topic and how it is supported by scientific evidence from the current grant on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme August 2016 and Sky News to coincide with the ban on microbeads in cosmetics becoming official. The results to date were presented by T Galloway as evidence at the United Nations Consultation on the Laws of the Oceans, New York, session on Marine Debris, Plastic and Microplastics. The purpose of the session was to formulate international guidance on: (1) The environmental, social and economic dimensions of marine debris, plastics and microplastics and progress made in preventing, reducing and controlling pollution from marine debris, plastics and microplastics; and (2) Challenges, lessons learned, best practices and way forward to prevent, reduce and control pollution from marine debris, plastics and microplastics. This link is for the panel discussion document http://www.un.org/depts/los/consultative_process/documents/Bios&abstracts_for_website.pdf This is a link to the presentation itself http://www.un.org/depts/los/consultative_process/ICP17_Presentations/Galloway.pdf This is an overview of the panel discussion http://enb.iisd.org/oceans/icp17/14jun.html The use of our science as policy evidence is discussed as a case study in a Nature Careers article called 'Science Advocacy, get involved' 22/29 DECEMBER 2016 | VOL 540 | NATURE | 611 which can be downloaded here http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/2016/161222/pdf/nj7634-611a.pdf Our work was cited as evidence for how to measure microplastics in GESAMP UNEP policy advice documents 'SOURCES, FATE AND EFFECTS OF microplastics in the marine environment, a global assessment part 2 2016 http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-10/pdf/GESAMP_microplastics%20full%20study.pdf The paper cited is Cole et al 2015 doi:10.1038/srep04528 Our work is cited as evidence of the impacts of microplastics on the marine environment in UNEP Frontiers 2016 Report, Emerging Issues in the Environment. Pp 31-43 https://web.unep.org/frontiers/sites/unep.org.frontiers/files/documents/unep_frontiers_2016.pdf papers cited include Galloway, T.S. (2015). http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-16510-3_13
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Gave evidence to a government review, POST note on Trends in the Environment
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Identifies marine microplastics as an internationally important emerging issue of environmental concern for policymakers, cites our papers as evidence
URL http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0516
 
Description Our work was cited as evidence in GESAMP UNEP policy advice documents 'SOURCES, FATE AND EFFECTS OF microplastics in the marine environment, a global assessment part 2
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Our research is cited as evidence for how to detect microplastics in this influential guide for policymakers. Published by the INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION, 4 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7SR, www.imo.org
URL http://www.gesamp.org/data/gesamp/files/media/Publications/Reports_and_Studies_93/gallery_2542/objec...
 
Description citation as evidence in government POST note on microplastics 2016
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact I contributed to the Government POST note on microplastics, both contributing as a reviewer and having our published work cited in the review. Papers cited include DOI: 10.1021/es400663f, DOI: 10.1021/es400663f, THis POST note provides detailed evidence for policymakers on how microplsatics may be impacting the marine environment and human health.
URL http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0528
 
Description citation in Environmental Audit Committee investigaiton into microbeads in cosmetics
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact A government ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetics has been brought into force
 
Description scientific evidence provided to the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, consultaiotn on microplastics and plastic litter in the oceans
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact I delivered scientific evidence to the panel discussion on the human health impacts of marine microplastics, resulting in a recommendation form the UN on future regulatory change. My published papers were also included in the UNEP report on microplastics and I contributed to the overall report as a reviewer.
URL http://enb.iisd.org/oceans/icp17/14jun.html
 
Title methods for isolating microplastics from environmental samples 
Description a portable method for isolating microplastics from sediment samples 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact publication of a paper outlining a portable method for isolating microplastics from sediment samples 
URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28734264
 
Description Invitation to participate in NSF funded collaborative activity 
Organisation Brown University
Department NSF/EPSCoR Proteomics Shared Resource Facility
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Rhode Island, contribution and attendance at a Brown University Workshop April 2017 funded through the NSF Experimental Programme to stimulate Competitive Research.
Collaborator Contribution I will contribute talks and as a panellist at the workshop on 'How climate change and environmental stressors impact marine ecosystems' in April at Brown University, reporting on our preliminary results on nanoplastics environmental impacts
Impact none yet, still ongoing
Start Year 2016
 
Description Invitation to participate in NSF funded collaborative activity 
Organisation Brown University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Rhode Island, contribution and attendance at a Brown University Workshop April 2017 funded through the NSF Experimental Programme to stimulate Competitive Research.
Collaborator Contribution I will contribute talks and as a panellist at the workshop on 'How climate change and environmental stressors impact marine ecosystems' in April at Brown University, reporting on our preliminary results on nanoplastics environmental impacts
Impact none yet, still ongoing
Start Year 2016
 
Description Invitation to participate in NSF funded collaborative activity 
Organisation Brown University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Rhode Island, contribution and attendance at a Brown University Workshop April 2017 funded through the NSF Experimental Programme to stimulate Competitive Research.
Collaborator Contribution I will contribute talks and as a panellist at the workshop on 'How climate change and environmental stressors impact marine ecosystems' in April at Brown University, reporting on our preliminary results on nanoplastics environmental impacts
Impact none yet, still ongoing
Start Year 2016
 
Description JPI Oceans 
Organisation SINTEF
Department Sintef Materials And Chemistry
Country Norway 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution We are associate partners in a consortium funded through the JPI Oceans international initiative, called Plastox: Direct and indirect ecotoxicological impacts of microplastics on marine organisms. The UK funder, DEFRA, was not able to offer any funding for us to be officially funded, hence we are associate partners only. We benefit from access to researcher exchange visits and exchange of data and scientific results with the rest of the consortium. http://www.jpi-oceans.eu/news-events/news/results-%E2%82%AC75-million-call-microplastics-published I am also on the strategic advisory board for another of these projects Ephamare (see the website).
Collaborator Contribution they offer funded training and research visits to their laboratories, also access to shared reagents, expertise and facilities
Impact none yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description I attended the Royal Society of Chemistry Environmental Nanoscience Initiative event on 10th December 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I attended the Royal Society of Chemistry Environmental Nanoscience Initiative event on 10th December 2015. This was designed to showcase the grants funded under the scheme and engage with the nanoindustry community
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk at Brown University, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited plenary talk to mark the initiation of an NSF funded programme to promote competitive interdisiplinary research in environmental and human health research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://web.uri.edu/rinsfepscor/2017/04/25/tracking-tiny-bits-plastic/
 
Description interview on BBC News at 10 and BBC World News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave an interview to the BBC News team to coincide with the introduction of a charge on plastic bags, describing the research being conducted under this grant
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-34415464
 
Description presenting at the BAS Plastics in the ocean solutions event 7th March 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Workshop to present the state of the science and to discuss solutions to plastic waste and marine litter pollution
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bas.ac.uk/event/plastics-in-the-ocean-challenges-and-solutions/