Ocean Wise® is researching the journey of plastic – from its source to the sea.

Microplastics – A Big Little Problem

When plastic enters the ocean, it never really goes away. It breaks down over time into increasingly tiny pieces called microplastics, no larger than a grain of rice (less than 5mm).

This ocean of plastic pollution is found from pole to pole.

  • These minuscule plastic invaders are eaten by tiny crustaceans called zooplankton who are mistaking them for food.
  • Microplastics can be carried up the food chain to other animals that eat zooplankton.
  • Zooplankton form the base of the ocean food chain, so their health is fundamental to a productive ocean and our ocean food supply.

How do microplastics impact ocean life?

The Coastal Ocean Research Institute, an Ocean Wise® initiative, is undertaking groundbreaking research to study how microplastics affect marine life:

  • Conducting the first study to show that zooplankton in the ocean are ingesting microplastics.
  • Working with Inuvialuit communities, to determine if microplastics are being ingested by beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea.
  • Determining microplastic abundance in blue mussels in coastal British Columbia and evaluating how they might serve as an indicator of microplastic pollution.
  • Partnering with outdoor apparel companies (MEC, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and REI) to research microfibre loss from synthetic and natural textiles in laundry to facilitate ocean-friendly material design.

Where are microplastics being found?

Ocean Wise® researchers are analyzing these tiny plastic particles to understand the extent of microplastic pollution in the Northeast Pacific, Arctic and Antarctic oceans.

Where are microplastics coming from?

With the help of infrared technology, Ocean Wise® is conducting forensic research to study the potential sources of microplastic pollution. Researchers hope to determine from which of the many sources they may be coming, including:

  • Tiny microbeads that wash down our drains from personal care products;
  • Fragments of single-use plastic items, such as coffee cup lids and plastic bags; or
  • Plastic microfibres that shed from textiles in laundry and other processes.

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