Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastics up to 5mm in size, anything bigger is considered a macroplastic. Since their invention in the 1950s plastics have been polluting our oceans and waterways. Big pieces of plastic in the oceans are broken down by phytodegradation, photodegradation (through plants or light) or weathering processes in the sea into ever smaller and smaller pieces. What we are still unsure about however is the extent to which they affect our environment. This project analysesethe quantity and size of microplastics found in the gastro-intestinal tracts of stranded turtles and marine mammals in the Aegean sea.
Microplastics research consists of recording the amount, type, and size of microplastics. This is the final step, however. Before any of this analyzation can occur a process must first be completed whose goal is to isolate the microplastics from a mixture of organic matter (remnants of the stranded animal’s guts) and microplastics. This process involves dissolving the organic matter with the proper chemicals, followed by filtering this mixture through a filter paper which traps only the microplastics. The rest of the unwanted solution passes through the filter paper and is disposed of. Once the filter paper has enough time to dry, it is ready to be analyzed for microplastics under the microscope.
Results & Discussion
From the countless samples we have analyzed, we have found that each stranded animal has been polluted with microplastics. Most of the microplastics are fibers, which suggests a lot of the microplastics in this part of the Aegean sea are derived from fish nets that are made of long plastic fibers. The next most prominent type of microplastic is the fragment. Sheets have rarely appeared on the sample slides.
Where to now?
This question is not so easy to answer. At the moment there is no method to gather microplastics from bodies of water. What we can do is continue our research and share our findings with local, national and international governments. The more we’re able to understand the issue at hand, the easier it will be to discover solutions.