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Microplastics in the Sea

Microplastic at the beach.
Microplastic at the beach.

Microplastic in our water bodies - a new challenge that has been of little concern to the public for many years. This has changed considerably over the last years. Microplastic has penetrated the minds of many people and is being treated as a new category of marine pollution that has rapidly attracted considerable attention from various stakeholders (e. g. science, non-governmental organisations, food security organisations and maritime organisations).

Here at the IOW, microplastic research was initially carried out in the field of microplastics on environmentally relevant microbiological investigations in the Baltic Sea. The first questions about microbiological communities growing on plastic surfaces were answered in the project MikrOMIK. Today, the effects on organisms at all levels of marine food webs and the possible changes in the migration of microplastics between different marine compartments are some of the new topics being studied by different groups on all continents. In the PlasticSchool project at the IOW, the findings and results of our own research were taken up and descriptive material, including small experiments easy to apply in school classes, was created.

Sediment sample from the Warnow catchment area
Sediment sample from the Warnow catchment area. In a heavy solution the lighter microplastic accumulates together with the organic matter in the separation chamber. The more heavy sediments sink to the bottom.

As in many institutions worldwide, microplastic research at the IOW has developed into an independent line of research. Three projects, BONUS MICROPOLL, MicroCatch_Balt and PLASTRAT, are currently being carried out at the IOW, in two of which the IOW is the coordinator of the network. All have set themselves the common goal of understanding the pathways of plastics and microplastics from rivers to the sea, covering most environmental compartments in which plastics can potentially accumulate. The improvement of methods for the extraction of plastics and microplastics from various environmental matrices is continuously being implemented across these projects. The results of these projects will help to close relevant gaps in the literature and provide reliable information on the relative contribution of land-based plastic sources. In addition, the results are presented to the public in an understandable way.

Our projects cover all environmental gradients from land to sea, from the water surface to the water column and deep into the sediment. All of these are significant contributions that integrate our institute into a selective group of leading institutions in plastics and microplastic research.