Getting a bead on microplastics

Getting a bead on microplastics

Five years ago, Eckerd College students participating in a research cruise on Tampa Bay made a surprising discovery. Water and sediment samples revealed microscopic bits of plastic, unrecognizable at first. “It’s unclear where they’re coming from and the extent of the harm,” said Eckerd marine science professor David Hastings, an oceanographer best known for his research on climate change.  Hastings was named one of the Top 5 Science Champions for 2014 by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Now, Hastings has added microplastics to his wide-ranging interests. His classes study and regularly sample area waters for them.

“What we do know is that a lot of the bay’s organisms are filter feeders and confuse microplastics for food, and a lot of organic pollutants stick to them. We don’t know whether it’s microbeads in face wash or the breakdown of larger plastics.”

A grant from the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund may help Hastings and his students unravel some microplastic mysteries.

Starting in 2017, the U.S will ban the tiny plastic spheres used as exfoliants in face wash, toothpaste, and other cosmetic products.

 Did you know? Studies show that oysters and other filter-feeding marine animals that ingest microplastics produce fewer and less healthy offspring.

Photo By: Eckerd College
Eckerd.edu/marinescience/

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