The abundance and distribution of plastics in surface water of the Caribbean

, Courtene-Jones Winnie, Penn Emily, Thompson Richard.

Plastic pollution is considered one of the most serious threats to sustainable use of marine and coastal resources of the Caribbean. To date the majority of studies in this region have focused on beached litter with research into the abundance and distribution of floating plastics severely lacking. As part of ‘eXXpedition Round the World', manta trawls were conducted during November - December 2019 (n = 20), to sample surface (micro)plastics within the Caribbean Sea: around the Lesser Antilles (Antigua, Bonaire and Aruba) and the San Blas islands. Samples were sieved into three size classes (335µm – 0.99mm, 1.00mm – 4.74mm, ¿ 4.75mm), categorised according to morphology and polymer composition as determined by FTIR analysis. Plastics ≥335µm were identified in all except two of the trawls, with fragments dominating at each location. Concentrations ranged between 0 – 0.0051 particles m¯3, with the highest accumulation observed in coastal water of the San Blas islands (486 plastics), where foam and pellets were also found in relatively high abundance. Across all sites, 18 polymer types were identified, comprising both negatively and positively buoyant plastics. Polyethylene and polypropylene dominated with other polymers displaying a more heterogeneous distribution. Data were analysed to identify any geographical differences between polymer composition, size and morphology, and plastic abundance was explored in relation to environmental variables to evaluate whether these factors may influence the distribution of surface plastics. The data presented are some of the first baseline estimates of floating plastics in these regions of the Caribbean. Despite regional ocean dynamics, which are hypothesised to transport and aggregate plastics in the Caribbean Sea, the values we report are comparable to similar studies conducted in the wider North Atlantic Ocean. These results are the first to be presented from a larger, global dataset; the fieldwork for which is currently ongoing.

View online