A Breakthrough in the War on Microbeads

Proof this month that the struggle to protect our ocean giants from the pollution risks of modern living is a never-ending one. The good news in this report from the BBC is that the UK government will finally introduce legislation, effective 2017, to ban microbeads from cosmetics and cleaning products. This follows close on the heels of similar legislation passed in the United States and parallel deliberations happening in Europe to address this insidious risk to marine life as well as to people eating seafood. In case you were not fully aware of the extent of the problem and the steps you can take personally to reduce this pervasive form of pollution, the BBC article includes useful links to sites that explain the enormity of the risks and gives tips on how to avoid offending products.

These are major breakthroughs and need to be celebrated but before we get too carried away with this partial success, another risk has recently emerged. Until now, much of the concern over microplastics has been over microbeads but in a recent article the Sunday Times explains the similar pollution risks being posed by microfibres inherent in the manufacture of fleeces. This popular garment has been exposed as one of the worst producers of marine pollution with as many as 2,000 tiny fibres, small enough to pass through the filters of washing machines, finding their way into the sea via water treatment plants each time a fleece is washed. Microplastic particles damage wildlife and ecosystems when plankton and small fish mistake the particles for food and eat them. Once in the gut, the particles can partially block it, with the smallest passing into the blood and tissues.

Clearly there is an urgent need to try and understand these latest risks and rapidly develop counter-measures to address them. Under the leadership of world-renowned whale shark expert Simon Pierce, our partner Marine Megafauna Foundation, is pioneering approaches to uncover the effect of plastic marine pollution on the food webs used by vulnerable marine species. Using whale sharks as the model, the goal is to establish whether large filter feeders are affected by microplastics and to monitor the effects of pollutants on this threatened species. Knowledge gained from this study will subsequently be used in broader global initiatives.

Our partner MMF Team Whale Shark needs our help in launching this initiative and Ocean Giants Trust is proud to be a supporter. The budgeted costs of the programme are estimated at £85,000 and a more comprehensive brief is available for inspection. The fieldwork is due to start in Mafia Island, Tanzania from September 2016. If you would like to help to fund this research and conservation project you can donate here.