New GMIT study on European marine microplastic pollution published

Thursday, May 27, 2021 Press Office
Press Release

Study outlines policy recommendations to mitigate plastic and microplastic pollution. Agriculture, shipping and fishing sectors are the predominant sources of plastic pollution

A new study commissioned by European network of marine NGOs Seas at Risk VzW (https://seas-at-risk.org/) titled, “Microplastics in the marine environment: sources, impacts and recommendations”, compiled by GMIT microplastic researchers Dr João Frias, Dr Róisín Nash, Dr Elena Pagter, Sindhura Stothra Bhashyam, M.Sc., together with Malcolm Deegan from Dublin-based MalDeegan Productions, has been published today (Thursday 27 May 2021) on GMIT’s Research@THEA repository, http://research.thea.ie/handle/20.500.12065/3593.

Sustainability has become a key pillar of Europe's environmental strategy in the past decade. With the new European Green Deal becoming more relevant and promoting a new Circular Economy, the problem of plastic pollution, particularly marine microplastics, must be tackled by all nations working together for the common good. The publication of this report coincides with the commencement of European Green Week 2021, (www.eugreenweek.eu), where the focus is on zero pollution for healthier people and planet. This report highlights the current state of the art on microplastic sources and pathways within the marine environment in Europe. The aim of the report is to provide useful information for decision-makers, stakeholders, researchers, and the general public.

The Principal Investigator, Dr João Frias, GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC), states that “Complex global challenges such as microplastic pollution are not beyond our reach as humans to solve when we work together. Sustainability and circularity link all sectors, pathways and sources described in this report. It is important to tackle sources to flatten the plastic curve, particularly at the production and disposal stages.”

Co-author Dr Róisín Nash, GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC), says: “We cannot deny that climate change is happening. We need policy makers to act decisively and take positive steps in tackling plastic pollution and its many and varied effects on marine ecosystems and on climate change.”

Key findings of the reports are as follows:

  • The predominant sources of plastics and microplastics in the marine environment come from the agriculture sector (plastic seed coatings; spreading of sludges from wastewater treatment plants  and the use of plastic mulching); the shipping industry (1816 containers lost at sea in 2020), and the fishing industry (abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear).
  • This report starts to highlight for the first time a link between plastic pollution and climate change based on scientific peer reviewed publications.  Of the plastic polymers tested, Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) (for example plastic milk bottles and shopping bags) released the highest concentrations of greenhouse gases (methane and ethylene) to the environment when exposed to solar radiation.
  • From the base of the food chain (plankton) to the largest marine mammals are currently threatened by the levels of microplastics in our oceans. It is predicted that by 2050 that 99% of all seabirds will have plastic in their digestive systems. All marine turtle species are impacted by plastic pollution (ingestion and/or entanglement).
  • The majority of microplastics in the ocean were identified as Fibres from clothing.
  • Based on the research findings a set of policy recommendations are proposed to reduce and minimise plastic emissions, and consequently the impacts of microplastics in the marine environment. This report provides a variety of recommendations across several sectors to address the levels of plastic pollution in Europe. These recommendations have been organised into Short (2-3 years), Medium (3-8 years) and Long term (> 8 years) to support decision makers working on this topic.
  • The research findings within this report encourage decision makers to take a holistic approach when exploring environmental issues within Europe. The plastic pollution problem is a complex multi-stakeholder process with many cross-sector linkages which cannot be successfully addressed in isolation.
  • The report was compiled by members of the marine microplastic research team in the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC) at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), and MalDeegan Productions in Dublin.

Publication details
Stothra Bhashyam, S., Nash, R.*, Deegan, M., Pagter, E., Frias., J. *, (2021). Microplastics in the marine environment: sources, impacts and recommendations. http://research.thea.ie/handle/20.500.12065/3593

The report will be also be deposited on the Seas at Risk website https://seas-at-risk.org/

About Dr João Frias
Dr João Frias is a marine litter and microplastic researcher working in the field of plastic pollution since 2008. Witnessing first-hand the accumulation of plastics in the beach where he spent summers with his family made him look further into this environmental issue. He has been conducting research in Portugal (mainland and the Azores archipelago) and in the United Kingdom (Plymouth). Four years ago, he joined the marine microplastics team at the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC) in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), where he has been quantifying microplastics from surface seawater, seafloor sediments and several marine organisms within Galway Bay, in the West of Ireland.

With several publications in international peer-reviewed journals, and many outreach and awareness activities in Ireland, João is trying to bridge the gap between academic research and the knowledge or perception that the general public might have on environmental issues. For more details on his research projects please access: https://mfrc-gmit.ie/meet-the-team/dr-joao-frias/

About Dr Róisín Nash

Dr Róisín Nash is a lecturer and researcher in the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC) at GMIT Galway, with a background in environmental impact assessment, marine pollution and more recently microplastic research. She has more than 25 years’ experience in national and international research, lecturing and postgraduate supervision. Her current research is looking at estimating concentrations of microplastics in water surface, benthic sediments and biota from environmental samples in both freshwater and marine ecosystems and exploring pathways and fate of microplastics within the Irish context.  Dr Nash is well published in the area of microplastics and has also co-authored book chapters and reports.
See: Dr Róisín Nash - GMIT Marine & Freshwater Research Centre (mfrc-gmit.ie)

  • Current microplastic research covers a variety of areas including:
  • Exploring biofilms and settlement on different polymers (JPI Oceans funded project).
  • Distribution of deepsea microplastics within the porcupine Seabright (Marine Institute collaboration)
  • Abundance of microplastics in coastal sediments around Ireland (collaborations with the Marine Institute and NPWS)
  • Abundance and retention time of microplastics in Nephrops (collaboration with the Marine Institute)

         
ENDS

Issued by Regina Daly, GMIT Communications & Press Officer, GMIT, Dublin Road, Galway.
0879618355 (m) regina.daly@gmit.ie   www.gmit.ie/news

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