New worldwide assessment of macro and microplastics

Published: 27 January 2017

Microplastic pollution in the ocean is recognized as a serious threat to the marine environment and an issue of international concern. Under target 14.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) governments across the globe have agreed to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds from land-based activities by 2025. Marine litter is explicitly mentioned in this regard.

microplastics credit Joe Dowling sustainable coastlines marine photobank

Following the publication of the first assessment report on microplastic pollution in 2015 by the Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) an update and further assessment has been published. Deltares expert Dick Vethaak was involved in this study.

Sources, fate and further assessment

This recent report (GESAMP 2016) provides an update and further assessment of the sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment. The assessment has been carried out by Working Group 40 of GESAMP. The report reviews the current knowledge on microplastics in the marine environment and will serve as an important reference for anybody interested in the topic, from scientists to policymakers. Parts of the report were also used in the UNEP report on marine plastics and microplastics published earlier last year.

GESAMP advises the United Nations

GESAMP is an advisory body, established in 1969, that advises the United Nations (UN) system on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection. Dick Vethaak of Deltares and VU University Amsterdam is an expert in microplastic pollution and a core member of WG40 of GESAMP.

New in this report

  1. Greater effort has been made to describe the nature, distribution and magnitude
    of sources of macro- and microplastics. One previously unrecognized source highlighted is debris from vehicle tyres.
  2. The distribution of microplastics in the main ocean compartments are described, together with the transport mechanisms that regulate fluxes between compartments.
  3. Regional ‘hot-spots’ of sources, distribution and accumulation zones are reported.
  4. The (possible) effects of microplastics on marine biota and on commercial fish and shellfish and human health have been explored in greater detail.
  5. Other new sections consider the economic aspects of microplastic contamination,
    good practice guidance on sampling and analysis and an initial risk assessment
    framework.

The report concludes with key conclusions and recommendations for further research (page 34 of the GESAMP2016 report).