Holistic assessment of plastic pollution in the Caribbean

The Caribbean is known for its beautiful beaches and clear water.But, plastics and other humanmade fibers are contaminating its islands and surrounding sea, which could pose a threat to the diverse marine life that it supports and to the tourism industry.According to a new study this is the first comprehensive assessment of land-based and marine plastic pollution in the Southern Caribbean. It also includes some environmental factors that might affect its distribution.This study was the result of sample analysis taken from an all-female Round the World sailing expedition led by eXXpedition. The samples were taken from the seafloor and land, as well as from land-based assessments.It found 18 different types of polymers of plastic off the coast of five Caribbean nations. The highest concentrations (5.39% particles per m) were located off the San Blas Islands in Panama.A detailed ocean modeling and assessment of regional policies showed that the high levels of microplastics found in the area were likely to be a result of a combination distant sources and run-off from Panama, which has the highest concentrations (around 44%) of unmanaged waste.AdvertisementHowever, waters off Antigua and Bonaire had lower amounts of marine and terrestrial plastics. Antigua had the highest diversity of polymers. Research suggests that most of the microplastics found in Antigua were transported by currents from the North Atlantic Ocean.Science of the Total Environment authors write that both terrestrial litter as well as microplastics found in marine samples could be a result of the maritime or tourism industries.They say this, in turn, reflects the complex challenges of managing plastic pollution since both are major contributors of the economies of the Caribbean.Researchers from the University of Plymouth (UK), the University of Georgia (USA), the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (UK), and the Technological University of Panama led the research.The study's principal author is Dr Winnie Courtene Jones, eXXpedition Science Leader and Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the International Marine Litter Research Unit (University of Plymouth). She stated that there has not been any evidence to support the presence of plastics in the Caribbean. This study provides a snapshot of plastic pollution in the South of the region and shows how it differs across regions. This study contributes to the lack of knowledge about marine plastic pollution in Caribbean Sea, but also highlights the need to conduct international and inter-disciplinary collaborative research and find solutions for plastic pollution.eXXpedition's Round-the-World voyage left Plymouth in October 2019, with the goal of inspiring a network and informing industry about effective solutions and influencing land policy.Emily Penn BEM, eXXpedition Founder, and one of the coauthors of the current study, stated: "Our vision was to explore remote and unaccessible areas of the globe to find solutions to plastic pollution on land by better understanding their sources. Surprisingly, our findings revealed a wide range of polymer types. This means that the pollution comes from many sources. Therefore, the solutions must be varied. All of us share the same planet, and the ocean connects us all. This study shows why all sectors of the community need to come together in a holistic manner across the Caribbean and beyond to combat ocean plastic pollution.