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Environ Pollut. 2019 Feb;245:702-710. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.11.041. Epub 2018 Nov 14.

Selective accumulation of plastic debris at the breaking wave area of coastal waters.

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong.
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong; Swire Institute of Marine Science, University of Hong Kong, Cape d'Aguilar Road, Shek O, Hong Kong. Electronic address:


Over the last decades, plastic debris has been identified and quantified in the marine environment. Coastal and riverine input have been recognized as sources of plastic debris, whereas oceanic gyres and sediments are understood to be sinks. However, we have a limited understanding of the fate of plastic debris in the nearshore environment. To investigate the movement and distribution of plastic debris in the nearshore environment, we collected samples at three distinct locations: below the high tide line, the turbulent zone created by the combination of breaking wave and backflush (defined as the boundary), and the outer nearshore. We estimated the abundance and physical characteristics (e.g. density, hardness, etc.) of macroplastic and microplastics. Four times and 15 times more macroplastics and microplastics are observed, respectively, at the boundary than in the outer nearshore waters, which suggests an accumulation driven by the physical properties of the plastic particles such as density, buoyancy and surface area. We further report that highly energetic conditions characteristic of the boundary area promote the long-term suspension and/or degradation of low density, highly buoyant or large surface area plastic debris, leading to their preferential accumulation at the boundary. Contrastingly, denser and low surface area plastic pieces were transported to the outer nearshore. These results emphasize the role of selective plastic movement at the nearshore driven by physical properties, but also by the combined effects of several hydrodynamics forces like wave action, wind or tide in the resuspension, as well as degradation and transport of plastic debris out of the nearshore environment.


Beach clean-up; Coastal water; Hong Kong; Macroplastics; Microplastics; Nearshore; Plastic composition; Plastic debris; Wave breaking

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