Plastic pollution penetrates Scotland’s seas

Puffins shiant crop

Puffins on the Shian isles, where samples were taken. Picture credit: Greenpeace.

​Greenpeace scientists say poisonous plastic is widespread in Scotland's seas

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7th March 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The remotest, most supposedly pristine and ecologically important waters of Scotland are contaminated by tiny pieces of poisonous plastic that are invisible to the naked eye.

Greenpeace has conducted one of the most extensive surveys yet and has uncovered the extent of plastic pollution in our seas.

Scientists on the Greenpeace ship the Beluga used a number of different methodologies to gather more data on plastic in Scottish waters than any previously published survey.

The most complicated procedure they undertook was a survey of microplastics on the sea surface from 49 samples taken at 27 different locations around the Scottish coast and islands.

Scientists collected samples with a focus on areas around the Hebrides known to be important feeding grounds for basking sharks and seabirds.

Seawater samples were collected in key foraging areas and around internationally significant colonies including Bass Rock and the Shiant Isles, which are the home to over 20 seabird species including gannets, puffins, razorbills and shearwaters.

A total of 49 individual samples were then analysed by Greenpeace’s laboratory at the University of Exeter to determine the types of microplastics found, and any chemicals or contaminants carried on individual microplastic pieces.

 Despite the remoteness of Scottish coastal waters, and the low levels of coastal development of the areas surveyed, 31 of 49 samples tested contained microplastics.

Tisha Brown, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Although microplastics were found in two out of three samples, this isn’t all bad news. The concentrations are lower than in many other regions of the world’s oceans, and hopefully Scottish marine life is at a proportionately lower risk than marine life in those areas.

“But the key finding is that microplastics are present in some of Scotland’s most remote and unspoilt waters.

“Threatened seabirds and other wildlife are already exposed to them, along with the fish stocks we eat, and there is currently no coherent process or even plan to stop this problem from getting worse.”

Because of their synthetic nature and their propensity to adsorb, or attract, chemicals from seawater on to their surfaces, microplastics can also carry substantial concentrations of a range of chemical additives and contaminants.

Chemicals found in the samples include those used as additives in plastics like phthalate esters, heavy metals and flame retardants – some of which have been classified as “toxic to reproduction” or are suspected to have hormone disrupting properties.