TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new study from researchers at the University of South Florida and Eckerd College is bringing to light what pollutants are filling up Tampa Bay waters.
Published last week in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, the 14-month study found approximately four billion particles of microplastics in Tampa Bay. That means on average, there are four particles of microplastic in every gallon of water.
To conduct the study, researchers from USF and Eckerd College took samples from 24 sites around Tampa Bay with the help of Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission.
According to the study, microplastics – which are 1/8 of an inch at their largest – are small pieces of degraded man-made materials such as threads of fabric, plastic bags or bottles.
Researchers found that the most common pollutant in Tampa Bay is fabric.
Threads from synthetic fabrics, which travel through wastewater after a cycle through the washing machine, are too small to be caught by filters. They are eventually released into the bay with treated water.
Types of microplastics found in Tampa Bay waters
Here’s a look at the different types of microplastics found in the waters of Tampa Bay. Hover over the sections to see the exact number.Source: USF/Eckerd College
Researchers also found more than 600 pieces of microplastic per pound of dry sediment around the bay, equaling about 3 trillion pieces.
David Hastings served as the principal investigator of the study. He’s a courtesy professor at USF College of Marine Science and recently-retired professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College.
“We don’t really know yet the extent or implications to wildlife and people are,” Hastings said. “We know that lots of living things filter out what gets into the water. What they want is plankton, and what they’ll end up with is plastic, which carries toxins which can be really harmful.”
The next step, Hastings says, is seeing what impacts the microplastics have on the well-being of plankton, manatees and other wildlife that dwell in Tampa Bay waters.
“When I used to think about plastic, I used to think of it as an aesthetic concern, but what this research shows is that it’s like a plastic smog and it’s a tremendous concern to all of us,” Hastings said. “It’s not just an unsightly bag in the water, but that those bags, straws and water bottles will break down into smaller pieces. We’re hoping that this inspires legislators to move to do something about it.”