Microplastic pollution discovered on Irish continental shelf

Created on Monday, 02 October 2017 09:49
Written by Gillian Mills

Researchers from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway have discovered the presence of microplastic contamination along the western Irish continental shelf regardless of proximity to densely populated areas.

Pollution from plastic entering into the ocean is a global issue that impacts marine life at all trophic levels as well as economically important ecosystems, explains Dr Audrey Morley, senior author of the study and lecturer in Physical Geography at NUI Galway.

NUIG microplastic pollution

Microplastics found in Irish Marine sediments. A subset of recovered microplastics at 40-50x magnifications. (L) A frayed and tangled fibre from Galway Bay’s North Sound. (C) A heavily biofouled transparent fibre from the Aran Grounds. (R) A tangled ball of fibres identified during method testing from Galway Bay’s South Sound (52°57.722N, 9°33.358W). Photo:[Martin et al., 2017]

 

“The pervasive presence of microplastics on the Irish continental shelf bares significant risks for economically important Irish fisheries, for example the Galway Bay Prawn (Nephrops Norbegicus).

A previous study from Scottish fisheries has shown that prawns tend to ingest high concentrations of microplastic fibres when exposed to this type of pollution." 

Results show that the Galway Bay prawn fishery may be experiencing high exposure to this form of pollution with “potential detrimental repercussions for this species including reduced fitness and potential reproductive failure,” she warns.

“More research is needed to understand the mechanisms influencing interactions of microplastics with individual species and ecosystems.”

Pollution from plastic entering into the ocean is regarded a global issue that impacts marine life at all trophic levels as well as economically important ecosystems. Microplastics (plastics smaller than 0.5mm) are widely dispersed throughout the marine environment. Understanding distribution and accumulation is crucial for gauging environmental risk.

The study investigated the history of microplastic deposition on the seafloor and examined how sedimentation regimes, proximity to densely populated areas and maritime activities, may impact microplastic pollution and deposition in marine sediments.