Microplastics, defined as plastic that is 5mm or less in size, are formed through the breakdown of larger plastic items or are purposefully produced at this small size for use in a wide range of products. While microplastics represent a relatively small proportion of the total amount of plastic entering the ocean by weight, microplastics pose a disproportionately severe problem for biodiversity. This is due to the fact that microplastics are easily ingested by marine species, and have been documented to be consumed by over 50 marine species at both the bottom and top of the food chain. In addition, due to their high surface area to volume ratio, microplastics are adept at attracting and concentrating toxic and carcinogenic pollutants from the surrounding environment. They leach their pre-existing chemical additives, and these newly-acquired pollutants into their surroundings and the bodies of those that have ingested them.
Expanded polystyrene or EPS, commonly referred to as Styrofoam™, is a type of plastic, made of small foam beads that are expanded and bonded together. The material is widely used in the marine industry for fish boxes or coolers, buoys for aquaculture or moorings, and floats for marinas and walkways. Unfortunately, EPS easily breaks down into individual beads of microplastic size when exposed to the marine environment.
For this project, Fauna & Flora International will study the use of EPS in the marine industry, to get a better understanding of how much it contributes to microplastic pollution.
Established over a century ago, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was the world’s first international wildlife conservation organization — its mission is to conserve threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science, and which take into account human needs. The organization is focused on protecting biodiversity (the diversity of life on Earth), which underpins healthy ecosystems and is critical for the life support systems that humans and all other species rely on.
Header image photo credit: Edward Marshall/Fauna & Flora International