Microplastic Awareness Project
Take The Pledge
Plastic is everywhere and it's our problem. If we continue to misuse plastic at our current rate, there could be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. Let's turn the tide on plastic pollution!
2018 Lake Huron Microplastic Awareness Project Report
Volunteers along the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay shorelines participated in the Coastal Centre's first-ever citizen science-based microplastic analysis.
Download the report here.
The Microplastic Awareness Project (MAP) aims to reduce the plastic pollution in the Lake Huron watershed and increase public awareness of the issue of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Plastic can enter the Great Lakes in a number of ways including unscreened storm drains and improper litter disposal (ie. dumping, wind dispersal). Plastic acts as an attractant for environmental pollutants and can be toxic when consumed by wildlife.
What are Microplastics?
Plastic debris that measures less than 5 mm in length is called "microplastic". Microplastics can vary in colour and shape depending on their origin and the type of microplastic they are.
Microplastics first became a popular topic in the media surrounding the presence of microbeads in cosmetic products like exfoliants. Canada has aimed to phase out any cosmetic product with microbeads by July 2018.
Image courtesy of Lake Ontario Water Keeper
Where Does it Come From?
The majority of microplastics are the result of materials that have broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic is a durable material, making it ideal for constructing products that are built to last.
However, once consumer goods are no longer usable, plastics can enter the environment through landfills or improper disposal (ie dumping into the lake and river systems, littering) and continue persisting well after its purpose has been served. Eventually, sun exposure and wave action will mechanically break down larger pieces of plastic. Once a plastic piece is less than 5mm in length, it is considered to be microplastic.
DID YOU KNOW?
The average amount of time that a plastic grocery bag is used for is only 15 minutes, but they can persist for hundreds of years in a landfill!
Disposable items, like straws, grocery bags, coffee cups and water bottles, contribute to the massive amount of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. One study found that there were 1.7 million pieces of microplastic per square mile in Lake Erie; a higher density than some parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is close to twice the size of Texas.
Preliminary research has shown that Lake Huron has a significant amount of large plastic fragments that will eventually break down into microplastics with higher densities being found close to shore.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
When plastic is in an aquatic environment, it can attract toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as DDT, PCB and dioxins. There is currently limited research into the effects of POP's on wildlife populations or accumulation of toxins through the food chain (bioaccumulation).
Plastic pollution has the potential to affect wildlife populations in three different ways:
1) Mechanical complications due to ingestion; 2) Leakage of plastic additives; and
3) Exposure to POPs associated with plastics;
(Anderson, Park and Palace, 2016).
Plastic particles may be consumed by many species of fish, birds and other aquatic wildlife, when mistaken for a food source, posing a risk of increased mortality events. When plastic is consumed, it can be a choking hazard, damage internal organs, cause intestinal blockages and create a number of other complications that can ultimately result in the death of the animal.
Currently, there is ongoing research on how the combination of the chemicals in plastic and the concentrations of POPs that they attract effect fish populations. The toxicity of the POPs and leached plastic chemicals have the potential to have adverse effects on wildlife such as infertility and increased infant mortality. Further research is required to determine the risk on fisheries and aquatic wildlife populations.
Plastic pollution is a problem that will persist for much longer than this generation. It can take hundreds of years for a single piece of plastic to break down. Some preventative measures have started to take effect, like the Canadian legislation banning microbeads in cosmetics by July 2018, but there's still a lot more work to be done.
Many restaurants and organizations are taking on plastic free initiatives like "The Last Straw", which aims to eliminate single-use plastic straws. These movements can influence the change that is needed to reduce plastic pollution for future generations and create a better, cleaner world.
Lake Huron Microplastic Awareness Project
Are you plastic aware?
The Lake Huron Microplastic Awareness project is an initiative meant to raise consciousness of the ongoing global threat of plastic pollution. This citizen-science project utilizes volunteers to collect water samples along the shorelines of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay to obtain scientific data on the abundance of plastics per sample.
Through numerous community beach cleanups, plastic waste is diverted from the coast and Lake Huron. Dedicated volunteers help to sort and record collected waste as a part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and to ensure that anything recyclable (including cigarette butts!) are properly disposed of.
By partnering with local schools, students are given a practical, hands-on opportunity to observe microplastics at a microscopic level. Students will learn where microplastics come from and how they can affect Lake Huron's ecosystems. They will also filter a water sample that they collected themselves to count the number of plastic particles.
This project will investigate the abundance of microplastics in 1-L water samples along the Lake Huron/Georgian Bay shoreline. Volunteers will collect water samples from different sections of the coast to obtain scientific data about the presence of microplastics based on the protocol outlined by the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project.