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Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Oct 2;52(19):11038-11048. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b03467. Epub 2018 Sep 12.

Field-Based Evidence for Microplastic in Marine Aggregates and Mussels: Implications for Trophic Transfer.

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State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research , East China Normal University , 3663 Zhongshan N. Road , 200062 Shanghai , P.R. China.
Biology Department , Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution , 360 Woods Hole Road , Woods Hole , Massachusetts 02543 , United States.
Department of Marine Sciences , University of Connecticut , 1080 Shennecossett Road , Groton , Connecticut 06340 , United States.
Marine Biology , University of New England , 11 Hills Beach Rd , Biddeford , Maine 04005 , United States.
Department of Math and Sciences , Wilkes Honors College and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University , Jupiter , Florida United States.


Marine aggregates incorporate particles from the environment, including microplastic (MP). The characteristics of MP in aggregates and the role of aggregates in linking MP with marine organisms, however, are poorly understood. To address these issues, we collected aggregates and blue mussels, Mytulis edulis, at Avery Point, CT, and analyzed samples with microspectrometers. Results indicate that over 70% of aggregates sampled harbored MP (1290 ± 1510 particles/m3). Fifteen polymer types were identified, with polypropylene, polyester and synthetic-cellulose accounting for 44.7%, 21.2% and 10.6%, respectively, of the total MP count. Over 90% of MP in aggregates were ≤1000 μm, suggesting that aggregations are a sink for this size fraction. Although size, shape, and chemical type of MP captured by mussels were representative of those found in aggregates, differences in the sizes of MP in pseudofeces, feces and digestive gland/gut were found, suggesting size-dependent particle ingestion. Over 40% of the MP particles were either rejected in pseudofeces or egested in feces. Our results are the first to identify a connection between field-collected marine aggregates and bivalves, and indicate that aggregates may play an important role in removing MP from the ocean surface and facilitating their transfer to marine food webs.


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