Marine plastic pollution in waters around Australia: Characteristics, concentrations, and pathways

Julia Reisser, Jeremy Shaw, C. Wilcox, B.D. Hardesty, M. Proietti, Michele Thums, Charitha Pattiaratchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

326 Citations (Scopus)
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Plastics represent the vast majority of human-made debris present in the oceans. However, their characteristics, accumulation zones, and transport pathways remain poorly assessed. We characterised and estimated the concentration of marine plastics in waters around Australia using surface net tows, and inferred their potential pathways using particle-tracking models and real drifter trajectories. The 839 marine plastics recorded were predominantly small fragments (“microplastics”, median length = 2.8 mm, mean length = 4.9 mm) resulting from the breakdown of larger objects made of polyethylene and polypropylene (e.g. packaging and fishing items). Mean sea surface plastic concentration was 4256.4 pieces km−2, and after incorporating the effect of vertical wind mixing, this value increased to 8966.3 pieces km−2. These plastics appear to be associated with a wide range of ocean currents that connect the sampled sites to their international and domestic sources, including populated areas of Australia's east coast. This study shows that plastic contamination levels in surface waters of Australia are similar to those in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Maine, but considerably lower than those found in the subtropical gyres and Mediterranean Sea. Microplastics such as the ones described here have the potential to affect organisms ranging from megafauna to small fish and zooplankton.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere80466
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2013


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