UGA Skidaway scientists find microplastic in coastal water

Microfiber seen under a microscope
Microfiber seen under a microscope(UGA Skidaway Institute)
Updated: Nov. 22, 2019 at 11:44 AM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Many of us use plastic products daily, but have you ever wondered what their effect is on the environment?

Scientists at the UGA Skidaway Institute have discovered microplastic in our coastal water system.

“If you think about the amount of plastic that we use in our daily lives, it is incredible. It is actually much greater than most people probably think about because it has kind of crept up on us over time,” said Jay Brandes, professor of Marine Chemistry.

Researchers collecting samples.
Researchers collecting samples.(WTOC)

Some of that plastic is not visible to the naked eye and it is ending up in our marshes, rivers and beaches.

“Microplastics are things that are about five millimeters in size, a quarter inch or so, on down to one micron, ” Brandes said.

Professor Jay Brandes along with Environmental Educator Dodie Sanders have found microplastics in almost every sample taken along the Georgia coast.

These samples are then filtered and studied under a microscope in their lab.

“We are identifying these visually right now. Eventually, in about three months we are going to have a very fancy machine that will allow us to identify not just whether it is plastic but exactly what kind of plastic it is. Once you know your sources you can work on minimizing those sources and where do they go. How many of them go out into the Atlantic Ocean and how many of them get buried in our coastal estuaries,” Brandes said.

There are multiple ways mircoplastics enter our environment but one of biggest ways we contribute to the pollution is by washing our plastic-based clothing.

This causes small fibers to break down and drain into our water systems.

Minimizing our impact is not just important to protect our local environment, but we could also be protecting ourselves and the local seafood industry in the process.

“Everyone is eating these things. We have no idea what sort of long-term effects they might have on us. We know from the few studies that have been done on marine organisms that some organisms are just fine eating microplastic, but other have problems that causes problems with their respiration or with their growth rates or their metabolism,” Brandes said.

We can all do our part by using less plastic in our daily lives, but it will take time and a group effort to see a significant improvement.

"It’s a problem that is at a larger scale that we are not going to cure it tomorrow, but we can start. We can start working on it and if each individual one of us starts on this, we will make a difference,” Brandes said.

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more, contact the Ogeechee, Altamaha or Satilla Riverkeepers.

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