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Canopy Accumulation: Are Seagrass Meadows a Sink of Microplastics?

Project Seagrass, 33 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3BA, UK
Seagrass Ecosystem Research Group, College of Science, Wallace Building, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University, 33 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3BA, UK
Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Oceans 2021, 2(1), 162-178;
Received: 25 September 2020 / Revised: 11 December 2020 / Accepted: 9 February 2021 / Published: 12 February 2021
A growing body of research is documenting the accumulation of microplastics within marine sediments around the world. The hydrodynamic influences of seagrasses in coastal environments are shown to increase sedimentation of finer particles and as a result there has been speculation that this attribute will lead to seagrass meadows acting as a site of elevated microplastic contamination. To date a range of localised studies have provided conflicting answers to this hypothesis. Seagrass meadows provide multiple ecosystem services including vital support roles for a range of fisheries; therefore, there are considerable human health implications for understanding their role as sinks of microplastics. This research investigated the abundance and diversity of microplastics present in temperate North Atlantic seagrass meadow sediments relative to unvegetated sediments and examined how they correlate with the meadow structure and the sediment type. We also placed this data in the context of the current knowledge of microplastics in seagrass sediments through a global meta-analysis of published data. Eight seagrass meadows and adjacent unvegetated sites around the UK were sampled to test for the abundance of microplastic particles in the sediment. Microplastics were found in 98% of the samples, with fibres making up 91.8% of all microplastics identified. Abundance was recorded to overall be 215 ± 163 microplastic particles (MP) kg−1 Dry Weight (DW) of sediment in seagrass and 221 ± 236 MP kg−1 DW of sediment in unvegetated habitats. There were no significant differences found between the number of MP with respect to vegetation. We report evidence of the almost ubiquitous contamination of seagrass sediments with microplastics both in the UK and globally but find that the contamination reflects a general build-up of microplastics in the wider environment rather than becoming concentrated within seagrass as an enhanced sink. Microplastic build up in sediments is hypothesised to be the result of local hydrodynamics and plastic sources rather than the result of elevated habitat level concentration. Although not of a higher abundance in seagrass, such contamination in seagrass is of cause for concern given the high dependency of many species of fish on these habitat types and the potential for plastics to move up the food chain. View Full-Text
Keywords: Zostera; sediment; marine; microbeads; pollution; eelgrass; seagrass; seascape; coastal; intertidal Zostera; sediment; marine; microbeads; pollution; eelgrass; seagrass; seascape; coastal; intertidal
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MDPI and ACS Style

Unsworth, R.K.F.; Higgs, A.; Walter, B.; Cullen-Unsworth, L.C.; Inman, I.; Jones, B.L. Canopy Accumulation: Are Seagrass Meadows a Sink of Microplastics? Oceans 2021, 2, 162-178.

AMA Style

Unsworth RKF, Higgs A, Walter B, Cullen-Unsworth LC, Inman I, Jones BL. Canopy Accumulation: Are Seagrass Meadows a Sink of Microplastics? Oceans. 2021; 2(1):162-178.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Unsworth, Richard K. F., Alex Higgs, Bettina Walter, Leanne C. Cullen-Unsworth, Isabella Inman, and Benjamin L. Jones. 2021. "Canopy Accumulation: Are Seagrass Meadows a Sink of Microplastics?" Oceans 2, no. 1: 162-178.

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