Micro- and nano-plastic impacts in the marine environment (MIME)

Most members of the public are aware of or have seen the impacts of litter pollution on the marine environment, so common are scenes of beaches covered in litter.

The extent of this pollution is such that the Norwegiab Environmental Agency have clearly stated that the amount of marine litter found along the Norwegian coast and the coast of Svalbard is unacceptable.

Much of this litter is in the form of plastic, with global use and production steadily increasing since mass production started in the 1940s, with annual global production now exceeding 230 million tonnes. So far, research has dealt mainly with larger plastic items. Widely recognized problems that catch the public eye are associated with entanglement, ingestion, suffocation and general debilitation of animals.

Marine pollution in Norwegian Nature
(Photo: Bo Eide)

Over the past decade there has been a realisation that plastic in the form of very small particles, so-called ‘microplastics’, pollutes much of the marine environment. 

In contrast to larger plastic items, microplastics are not as conspicuous. They occur due to the release of manufactured microbeads from various products (e.g. personal care products) and the breakdown of larger plastic litter.

Whether microplastics are harmful to aquatic organisms is hitherto unknown, and work is urgently needed to understand the impacts of plastic microparticles on marine organisms.

Samples of commercially available personal care products placed under a microscope (40x). The particles vary in size and shape and are made of polyethylene (plastic). A wide variety of personal care products, such as exfoliating face washes, contain these kinds of particles. Larger plastic items in the marine environment can break down into similarily sized particles. (Photos: NIVA).

The MIME project will identify three areas

  • The potential environmental impacts of micro-and nano-sized plastic contamination
  • The chemical additives that are a key component of plastic
  • The interactions of microplastics with hazardous substances and emerging contaminants of concern

An understanding of these three areas will provide an insight into whether microplastics are having an impact on the marine environment.

Videos: Courtesy of Bo Eide

Last updated 07.12.2017