Monitoring of microplastics in UK coastal and marine sediments using a rapid-screening approach based on fluorescent tagging with Nile Red

, Bakir Adil, Wilkinson Tim, Doran Denise, Maes Thomas.

Microplastics in the marine environment are of global concern due to their abundance, widespread distribution, and unknown environmental effects. Different methods are available for their quantification in the marine environment and their monitoring has been mainly focusing on the water column, biota, and sediments. Currently, there are no universally accepted standardised methods for any of these matrices. This study presents the findings and recommendations from a Research & Development study on the development of a rapid screening approach for the detection and quantification of microplastics in sediment based on a fluorescent tagging method using Nile Red coupled with an automated recognition software. Coastal and marine sediment samples were collected as part of the Clean Seas Environment Monitoring Programme (CSEMP). Coastal and offshore stations were also selected to investigate any gradient in the abundance of microplastics from coastal to offshore areas. Other factors, including the sediment type (particle size) and temporal variations were also considered. Microplastic particles were detected in almost all the sediment samples from all the stations selected around the UK. Spatial differences were also characterised for the different stations under investigation. This method was found to be in alignment with previous recommendations that the Nile red method is a promising approach for the largescale mapping of microplastics in a monitoring context. Addressing the knowledge gaps in monitoring data would allow the creation of “exposure risk maps” for the area with the mapping of accumulation zones for microplastics and more sensitive areas (e.g. marine protected areas, fishing zones). Exposure risk maps would be the first step in developing robust and reliable risk assessment frameworks based on environmental relevant conditions such as concentrations, size, and type of plastics items in the natural environment.

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