Source: Flinders University
The amount of micro plastic pollution in waters around the Maldives, a global tourist hotspot known for its beautiful coastline, is amongst the highest in the world and has the potential to severely impact marine life in shallow reefs and threaten the livelihoods of island communities.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic waste that measure less than 5 millimetres long, and due to their often microscopic size are considered invisible water pollutants
Marine scientists from Flinders University in Australia recorded the levels of plastic pollution in sand across 22 sites off the coast of Naifaru, the most populous island in Lhaviyani Atoll, to determine how much microplastic is present around the island. Microplastic distribution was found to be ubiquitous in the marine environment, with the results published in Science of the Total Environment journal.
Flinders University Honours student and lead researcher Toby Patti says micro plastics are highly concentrated in waters around Naifaru.
“The majority of micro plastics found in our study were less than 0.4mm in width, so our results raise concerns about the potential for microplastic ingestion by marine organisms in the shallow coral reef system. The accumulation of microplastics is a serious concern for the ecosystem and the local community living off of these marine resources, and can have a negative impact on human health.”
Professor Karen Burke Da Silva says notorious ‘rubbish islands’ used as landfill sites are also contributing to the high concentration of micro plastic found around the island while tourist locations with high end resorts account for 21% more rubbish.
“Current waste management practices in the Maldives cannot keep up with population growth and the pace of development. The small island nation encounters several issues regarding waste management systems and has seen a 58% increase of waste generated per capita on local islands in the last decade,” says Professor Burke Da Silva.
“Without a significant increase in waste reduction and rapid improvements in waste management, small island communities will continue to generate high levels of micro plastic pollution in marine sedimentary environments, with potential to negatively impact the health of the ecosystem, marine organisms, and local island communities.”
The researchers are now looking at the stomach content of coral reef fish to see if they have bellies full of micro plastics in a follow up study.