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Potential biomarkers for monitoring identified plastic pollution

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An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter our oceans each year, and plastic pollution is having a negative impact on the environment, climate and even our health. Many plastic products break down in the ocean and are ingested by marine organisms. Scientists can study these organisms as potential biomarkers, measuring how much plastic is present in different oceans and helping assess the overall health of the marine environment. .

To advance these efforts, several research institutes, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), conducted a meta-analysis to statistically analyze and combine the current scientific literature to monitor plastic pollution in the North Pacific. identified key marine species for ocean. This study provides a systematic framework for collecting data from these marine species to minimize the variability of observed results across different tissues. The results will help improve information critical to understanding the extent of plastic pollution in the North Pacific, the effectiveness of plastic reduction measures, and potential impacts on wildlife.

The researchers published their findings in a scientific journal Environmental pollution.

“The scientific community has an incredible amount of data on which marine organisms are ingesting plastic pollution to date. Transforming it into knowledge is essential,” says Matthew Savoca, a researcher at the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University in Pacific Grove, California.

Plastic pollution is a problem that affects all oceans around the world. The researchers focused on the North Pacific because they are part of a working group coordinating research in the region under a multinational scientific organization known as the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES). The site of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, the North Pacific, is one of the areas most affected by plastic pollution, further highlighting the importance of this study.

Conducting an extensive literature survey, researchers used statistical analysis on key information extracted from research articles on various marine wildlife groups, including invertebrates, fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles.

This collaboration focused on marine wildlife species already known to ingest plastic pollution. “These animals forage in the ocean, ingest plastic, and bring it back to us. We’re making the most of it and collecting data from them,” said NIST researcher Jennifer Lynch.

Using a scoring rubric modified from one similar to that used by the United Nations Working Group, the researchers evaluated 352 different marine species, 12 of which were the best potential organisms in the North Pacific. identified as an indicator.

These top biomarkers ranged from Pacific oysters and long-nosed lancetfish to green sea turtles and black-footed albatrosses. Among the highlighted species are several species previously unidentified as potential bioindicators, including clams, multiple anchovies, and small seabirds known as leash petrels.

Criteria for species to serve as bioindicators included a variety of factors, including distribution across the ocean, both the North Pacific and the world, and whether they were consumed by humans.

“There are some good biomarkers,” Savoca said. “First is accessibility. Can we easily obtain samples of these species? Second, we are looking for plastic-affected species to determine if the situation is worsening or improving.” We are also looking for changes in plastic pollution over time.”

At the same time, Lynch said: The presence of certain plastics can be revealed when sea turtles forage. However, bivalves such as mussels and clams may be better biomarkers for other plastics near the seafloor. And experts in detecting the presence of plastic of a particular size, whether it’s a visible piece of plastic or a nearly invisible microfiber, can be of different species.

Another important part of this research was developing a monitoring plan for these marine creatures. The authors include recommendations on how often samples should be collected (at least once a year), how many samples should be taken, and how best to collect and store them. The researchers proposed new surveillance plans as well as those already in use by other organizations.

For example, to monitor sea turtles, the authors used the Biological and Environmental Monitoring and Archives of Sea Turtle Organizations (BEMAST), a collaborative effort between NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). ) recommends an existing project called ).

BEMAST-monitored sea turtles have been accidentally caught and killed by fishing gear throughout Hawaii’s longline fishing areas. Scientists can then perform post-mortem examinations of the turtle’s gastrointestinal tract to reveal and quantify the plastic the turtle ate two to three weeks before she died. A variety of laboratory techniques can be used to analyze these plastics and collect data on their color, shape, size, mass, type of polymer, and markings that indicate the origin of the plastic debris.

For each category of marine life, researchers recommend detailed monitoring plans. This will ensure consistency in the results obtained when other organizations use these methods. Additionally, the monitoring plan will help policy makers as it serves as a potential mitigation measure for plastic pollution.

This study is part of a series of papers focusing on different aspects of monitoring plastic pollution levels in the North Pacific. The paper, authored by researchers in the PICES working group, examines plastic pollution in seawater and along coastlines, in addition to bioindicators.

As for future plans, “The next step is to start a new monitoring program in addition to continuing the existing monitoring program. We need to think about implementing what we proposed in the paper,” Savoca said. says.

reference: Savoca MS, Kühn S, Sun C, et al. Towards a North Pacific long-term monitoring program for plastic pollution: review and recommendation of biomarkers of plastic uptake. Environmental pollution2022:119861. Doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119861

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