Research Areas > Marine Debris
Research Theme: Marine Debris
The mid-20th century saw the mass introduction of new materials that resist oxidative and bacteriological decay. These new materials, mostly plastics, have resulted in a build-up of debris over time, with negative aesthetic and ecological consequences. In addition to larger plastic items that make their way into the marine environment, smaller pieces (<5mm) are of growing concern. These smaller items are typically a result of larger items being broken down over time and loss of pre-production plastic pellets (raw materials for producing larger plastic items) during transport. These pellets are considered a danger to marine life due to ingestion, and may represent a pathway for persistent organic pollutants to enter the food chain.
Southern California beaches and marine waters are used extensively for a variety of recreational purposes, attracting an estimated 150 million visitors annually. Consequently, most debris studies in Southern California have focused on the composition and abundance of debris on beaches. On the other hand, SCCWRP has participated in studies that not only looking at debris on beaches, but also in other habitats or receptacles: the seafloor, nearshore surface water, and water-column water.
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Pre-production plastic pellets; debris that has washed onshore; floating-debris patterns in the North Pacific Gyre.
Marine debris research areas include:
Debris on Beaches
Most studies of beach debris are conducted as part of beach cleanup efforts. In the late nineties, SCCWRP performed a pioneering study to more comprehensively quantify and characterize marine debris on southern California beaches. More recent follow-up studies were initiated in 2009 so as to inform management and regulatory approaches for addressing the sources of beach debris. These may include both point and nonpoint sources of debris like preproduction plastic pellets. SCCWRP and other collaborators work to understand and describe trends for not only larger trash, but for these smaller plastics as well. Though unseen, they may present a larger ecological problem; their shape and color often mimic food and may be consumed by wildlife.
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