Microplastic - Small Pieces Causing Large Problems

Olivia Saacke
9 October 2018


Our beach here in Nature’s Valley looks pristine and for the most part free of litter, but the closer you look, the more you see. After arriving here 3 weeks ago and walking the beach almost every day, I saw only a few large, obvious pieces of litter. When I heard I would be assisting with the marine debris project, my initial reaction was “Well it won’t take long because there’s no litter here!”. However, I then got introduced to microplastics. Microplastics are classified as pieces of plastic or fibers 5 millimeters in size or less. Their three main sources are from larger bits of plastic that have been broken down, fibers from using and washing fabric, and microbeads. This kind of litter is one of our most common finds when collecting marine debris.




Fish found in the North Pacific Gyre that ingested 18 bits of plastic. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-microplastic-invasion-may-be-taking-a-toll/

Microplastics are becoming an increasing issue with coastal marine life. It is difficult for many organisms to distinguish between food and bits of plastic. It was even challenging for us to differentiate between plastic and natural debris so imagine the difficulty that animals face. The growing presence of microplastics is affecting entire ecosystems as it infiltrates the air, water, and the soil we grow our food in. These pesky particles bioaccumulate in organisms and work their way up the food chain and very often end up on our plate. Starting at the bottom of the food chain, zooplankton mistake microplastic for their regular food source-diatoms. From there, they eventually make their way into fish such as tuna, swordfish, and krill which are then directly transferred to larger animals such as whales. Some species of fish have been discovered to prefer microplastic to their natural prey, effectively moving this plastic up the food chain. Once microplastic particles have been ingested, they have the potential to damage organs and release harmful chemicals that affect immune function, growth, and reproduction. It has also been discovered that extremely small particles can pass through the plasma membrane of some organisms and enter their cells, posing even more of a threat. Humans are not immune to consuming plastic either. Many oysters and mussels have microplastic in their tissues which can be of serious health concern to humans seeing as these plastic particles absorb toxic chemicals. 

However, there are ways that we can reduce our plastic use and prevent microplastics (or plastic in general) from entering the ocean. Although regulations and bans on certain plastic products need to be made on a larger scale, there are plenty of ways each of us can make a difference on a local scale.


What you can do:Micros4

  • Recycle! Confusion on what can and cannot be recycled is a common issue. For any confusing, here is a link to a 2018 Recycling Guide for South Africa: http://treevolution.co.za/guide-to-recycling-in-sa/
  • Don’t buy face wash or soaps with microbeads. These particles are small enough to pass through water-treatment plans. Instead, buy washes with salt, oatmeal, or other natural exfoliants.
  • Do your best to buy plastic alternatives and reduce the use of single-use plastics. A good example of this would be to switch to reusable beeswax wraps rather than plastic wrap or bags to keep food fresh.
  • Next time you walk the beach, bring a bag and spend some time looking for washed up microplastic or participate in a beach cleanup.
  • Avoid polyester clothing. Clothes made from polyester are not healthy for your skin and are a major source of microplastic as they break down into plastic fibers. 


#NMW2018 #NatureKnowsNoWaste #SharetheShores #Pletitsafeeling #SayNoToSingleUsePlastics