Map shows worst ranges for microplastics | the islander

A popular beach for children may have up to 4,000 pieces of plastic per square meter in its sand, a citizen science project has shown.

As part of Australia’s Microplastics Assessment Project, researchers and volunteers sifted through sand at high tide on more than 300 beaches.

They found more than three million fragments of microplastic, with results showing Manly Cove in Sydney among the worst for tiny particles.

Sydney beach has been surveyed almost monthly for two years, with many readings above 250 pieces per square metre.

A sample in September 2019 uncovered 4051 pieces per square meter, including about 600 pieces smaller than one millimeter.

Other Sydney beaches that recorded more than 250 pieces per square meter include Watsons Bay, Athol Beach and Botany Bay’s Cook Park.

Meanwhile, two parts of Adelaide’s West Lakes estuarine system achieved results of 5,500 and 9,500 pieces per square metre.

A moderate reading at Warrnambool’s Shelly Beach was the worst in Victoria while Fremantle’s Bathers Beach North had a moderate amount of plastic detected.

Low or very low amounts of plastic were reported in the handful of samples taken from Bronte in Sydney, Byron Bay and South Stradbroke Island in Brisbane.

Microplastics were generally higher in urban waterways, such as Sydney Harbor and city rivers, with beaches generally lower, depending on which direction they face, said Scott Wilson, research director of AUSMAP.

“One of our general findings (nationally) is that wherever we get large population centers, whether it’s cities or a small town, we find microplastics,” AAP told Friday. Macquarie University ecotoxicologist.

But regular sampling, like the ones taken at Manly Cove, helps paint a clearer picture of what’s in the water.

“We’re always keen to involve new people,” he said.

“We can’t be everywhere, so we’re dependent on these people going to their local beaches, lakes and rivers and sampling for us”

Citizen scientists participating in the research are trained to use a square frame to scoop up the top few inches of sand, separate the microplastic from the sand, and then sort into predefined categories.

The shoreline acts as a surrogate for what is in the water, showing the risks that animals and other organisms face in the environment.

Microplastics can come from clothing such as sportswear, synthetic grasses, trash, and other sources. Once in the water, the particles can absorb other contaminants.

“Diesel fuel coming off the ferry or metals washing off our streets will bond to the surface of the plastics, potentially making them more harmful to an animal that eats that piece of plastic,” Dr Wilson said.

“They’re not just eating plastic, they’re potentially getting a whole cocktail of chemicals.”

Dr Wilson, who will start next week as chief scientist of the Earth Watch Institute, said the AUSMAP project has partnered with local governments and state environmental agencies to monitor levels of microplastics and find the source.

The project has provided residents and businesses with the knowledge to better manage their businesses and reduce their deposits, he said.

Australian Associated Press

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