Biodiversity | Subscribe News

Sydney harbour’s plastic pollution at ‘alarming’ levels, scientists find


Sydney Harbour, Australia

Thin plastic fibres found at the bottom of Sydney harbour have the potential to poison fish. Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP Image


Powered by article titled “Sydney harbour’s plastic pollution at ‘alarming’ levels, scientists find” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Monday 25th August 2014 02.50 UTC

Researchers have found “alarming” level of plastic pollution in Sydney harbour, with fibres from clothing and toiletries causing a widespread impact upon the marine ecosystem.

The first information from the ongoing Sydney Harbour Research Program shows that small pieces of plastic measuring under 5mm have been found in each of the 27 surveyed sites along the length of the harbour.

Scientists from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science took sediment samples from the bed of the harbour and used a high salinity concentration to separate out the plastic.

Microplastics in Sydney Harbour

A map showing the distribution of microplastics in Sydney harbour. Map: Vivian Sim/University of NSW

The researchers found that the samples had 60 to 100 plastic particles per 100ml of wet harbour sediment. This is far higher than overseas sites – a study of a busy harbour in Sweden, for example, found 24 plastic particles per 100ml of sediment.

Thin plastic fibres, as opposed to shards of plastic bottles, were the most commonly found particles. These fibres come from clothing, such as fleeces that lose material as they are washed, and facial scrubs.

“The focus has previously been on larger pieces of plastic which injure turtles and birds, but it’s possible that microplastics are doing the most damage,” professor Emma Johnston, director of the research, told Guardian Australia.

“These plastics are small enough to be ingested by 96% of the world’s animals, invertebrates, which are then transferred to fish and larger animals.”

Plastics Fibres

The tiny plastic fibres can block the gut within fish. Photograph: Vivian Sim/University of NSW

The plastic fibres not only potentially block the gut within fish but also release toxins absorbed by the plastic after it is released into the environment.

Johnston, who started on the research project 18 months ago, is seeking funding for a further four-year analysis of the microplastics problem.

“This is cutting-edge research, so much so that we aren’t sure of the full impact of these plastics,” she said. “The lines of evidence all point to it being a major concern, but we don’t have the numbers to do a full risk assessment. We need to do a lot of targeted research quite quickly.”

Last year, research conducted by the University of Western Australia and the CSIRO found that the waters around Australia are riddled with more than 4,000 tiny pieces of plastic per square kilometre.

It’s estimated that Australia produces 1.2m tonnes of plastic each year. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.


Comments are closed.

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.