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Keep Lee County Beautiful Tip of the Week: Microplastics: Threatened Waters, Threatened Food Chain

January 31, 2018
Norman Turiano for Keep Lee County Beautiful , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

First In a Series

Lee County invites tourists to "discover pristine beaches, outdoor adventure, and a relaxed island paradise". Which is all true, and why we focus on the effects of storms upon our shores, organize litter cleanups, and educate the public on ways to easily keep our paradise pristine. But there is a more insidious threat that many people don't know about or think about, but which is beginning to gain greater attention: microplastics. Many have not heard the term, but these are small plastic particles that are turning up in great numbers in our environment. There is some disagreement over their exact size, but the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies microplastics as less than 5 mm in diameter. They come from a number of sources too numerous to list, including cosmetics, clothing, even toothpaste.

There are currently two types of microplastics classified: primary microplastics are manufactured and are a direct result of human material and product use, and secondary microplastics, which are microscopic plastic fragments derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris. To understand how larger plastic debris fragments, think about a water bottle floating in the surf along the coast, and waves pounding it into pieces against the sand. To think about it on a larger scale, one can look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which was discovered in the mid-1980s. The patch contains exceptionally high concentrations of plastics, sludge and other debris that has been trapped within the currents of the North Pacific.

Because plastics do not break down for many years, there is currently research underway to understand the entire cycle and movement of microplastics in the environment. But one thing is understood: they can be ingested and incorporated into and accumulated in the bodies and tissues of many organisms. And humans, being the top of the food chain, becomes at risk as these particles work their way up the chain.

The first International Research Workshop on the Occurrence, Effects and Fate of Microplastic Marine Debris at the University of Washington, Tacoma in 2008 agreed that microplastics may pose problems in the marine environment, based on the:

documented occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment

long residence times of these particles (and, therefore, their likely buildup in the future),

their demonstrated ingestion by marine organisms.

Keep Lee County Beautiful, as does most environmental groups located near waterways, focus on widely recognized problems of large trash, plastic bottles, fishing line entanglement, and other threats to our pristine environment. However, microplastics, being less than 5 mm, have been less of an issue as particles of this size are less conspicuous, but more frightening in that they are available to a much broader range of species and can cause serious threats.

This article is the first in a series that explores the nature of the issue, and discusses what we as responsible stewards of our environment can do rather easily to stop and reverse this problem.

As always, the best rule to follow is first reduce, secondly reuse, and finally recycle.

This sustainability tip is courtesy of Keep Lee County Beautiful Inc. For more information, visit www.klcb.org, email info@klcb.org, or call (239) 334-3488.

By Norman Turiano for Keep Lee County Beautiful

 
 

 

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