Microplastics have become a major pollution issue, not just along the Gulf coast, but throughout the world. They are small enough to be easily ingested by aquatic animals, particularly in marine and coastal environments where they float on the ocean surface.
This past week, the manuscript "Abundance and characteristics of microplastics in beach sediments: Insights into microplastic accumulation in northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries" written by Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South Alabama scientists was published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. The research was funded by the 2014 Center for Environmental Resiliency Grant.
Caitlin Wessel, who led the study, said it's the first study of its kind in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Wessel and her team spent several months in 2014 collecting samples from sites along Mobile Bay's shoreline. The sand samples were sorted and the microplastics discovered were put in separate containers marked for each site.
Wessel said that microplastics can be a range of broken down items including fishing line, plastic bags and bottles and Styrofoam ice chests.
"Our plastic can affect everything from filter-feeding oysters and mussels to shorebirds, crabs, fish, sea turtles and even dolphins and whales," Wessel explained. "Plastics also contain concentrated toxins which can then be released from the plastics as they work their way through the digestive tract and end up in organ and muscle tissue."
The best way to keep microplastics out of the water, away from marine animals and off our shoreline is to dispose of your trash.
There are simple ways you can help to eliminate the litter and plastic debris that makes it into our water ways. Click here to learn more about how to create a Clean Water Future with tips from the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program.