Highlights of a global assessement report on the sources, fate & effects of micro-plastics in the marine environment

Highlights by GreenFacts of a 2012 GESAMP Working Group Report.


The report in a glance

Overviews of the current state of knowledge and knowledge gap

gesamp report 2012

s on sources, distributions and trends of micro-plastics and on the properties and degradation of polymers and physical and chemical effects of micro-plastics were presented at a meeting of GESAMP[1] Working Group 40 held in March 2012.

The main purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for the dedicated Working Group (WG40) Members, sponsoring Agencies and invited observers, to discuss and agree the overall objectives, key questions and intended outputs : Terms of Reference, work programme and outputs. Among the main recommendations of the workshop was that there was a need for a global assessment to explore the extent to which micro-plastics represented a hazard to the marine environment.

There was agreement on the need to set this assessment in a recognised assessment framework, and a number of options were described. This framework was placed in an appropriate Road Map and a revised time-line for a work programme recommended for approval by a further GESAMP meeting that took place in April 2012.

The meeting also questioned whether there was a need to consider how to address social and economic concerns, including public perceptions.

While scientific evidence illustrates the presence and potential dangers of micro-plastics in the marine environment, the attention on this as a major threat that policy makers need to address has largely come from NGOs, the media and the general public.  It was pointed out during the meeting that there has been a disproportionately strong response by NGOs, the media and the public to emerging information about the extent of marine debris and micro-plastic contamination in the ocean, compared with the known impacts of POPs such as PCBs.

The meeting was attended by representatives of sponsoring organizations (IMO, IOC, UNEP, UNIDO, ACC, Plastics Europe) and a number of invited Observers (EU DG ENV, OECD, UNEP/MAP). GESAMP welcomes indeed partnerships with a wide range of organizations, on a formal or informal basis.

A common view was that ‘this should not be simply another review’. There was some consensus on the importance of rigorously assessing what we know now (i.e. science, gaps in knowledge, degradation, monitoring), evaluating the degree of confidence we can attach to this knowledge, and stating how they intend to meet their goals via Goal-Orientated Project planning and the use of SMART principles (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).

The report in 12 questions and answers

 About the programme

1. What was the rationale for selecting the topic of the micro-plastics presence in the marine environment ?

Plastics form a large proportion of marine litter, and the widespread occurrence of macroscopic plastic debris and the direct impact this can have both on marine fauna and legitimate uses of the environment, sometimes remote from industrial or urban sources, has been well documented. The analytical overview initiated by UNEP and reported at a GESAMP Workshop of 2010 (see GESAMP 2010 for details[2])provided a useful overview of the issue, including type, source and distribution of litter and measures to combat the problem. Subsequently, marine debris was one of three topics selected for inclusion in the 2011 UNEP Year Book, with specific emphasis on micro-plastics as an emerging issue of environmental concern.

Micro-plastics have a range of compositions and can be demarcated by usage and source as:

  1.  ‘primary’ particles, such as micro-plastic resin pellets used in the plastics industry, and in certain applications such as industrial abrasives and skin-care products;
  2.  ‘secondary’ micro-plastics resulting from the degradation and breakdown of larger items.

2. What are the conclusions and main recommendations of the report?

Whether micro-plastics are having a significant ecological impact is perhaps the most important question the Working Group 40 on micro-plastics should address.

Recent publications have started to suggest ecological effects of micro-plastics are occurring and it is important that the WG40 looks at the evidence impartially.  The WG40 considers that they are unusually in the position to get on top of a problem before it becomes a big issue (in contrast to the past PCBs story). However, available time-series do not show convincing trends in micro-plastic concentrations, implying important pathways are missing (e.g. sinking particles) or failing to sample representatively. Greater rigour is needed when assessing particle properties.

The WG40 considered anyway to know enough to undertake an assessment, and to work on exposure pathways. They considered also they need to find out what are missing blocks in the conceptual structure of their understanding of the issue of micro-plastics in the marine environment. They said they should keep in mind the guiding principles of conducting an assessment: add value, reduce complexity, and synthesise knowledge.

The participants considered also that the Terms of reference and Work Programme proposed are appropriate and justified, and that the Working Group is timely. They plan to work closely with other initiatives and make use of earlier studies to make cost-effective use of the limited resources.

Monitoring programmes for micro-plastics are under development and the WG40 needs to be able to link monitoring data with effects data to advise whether they are looking at the most appropriate targets/indicators and in the most appropriate places. The WG highlighted the need to consider the bio-concentration of micro-plastics, as well as their role in the bio-magnification of Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs). The WG underlined in this context the need to be able to advise Agencies and decision makers on whether monitoring is needed.

Thery considered also that micro-plastics should be placed in context with other particulate matter (e.g. nano-particles, black carbon) and that the rates of degradation of micro-plastics are critical. Greater rigour is needed in particular when assessing particle properties. It was considered important in this context to link expertise on materials science with expertise on physical, chemical and biological oceanography.

Eventually, the Working Group 40 considered that its role of WG40 is to improve the science base but, in so doing, consider who to make information available to (e.g. UN Agencies, other sponsoring agencies, Regional Seas bodies, general public) to respond to the  significant public misperception of the state of plastics in the ocean, illustrated by phrases such as: island of trash and more plastic than plankton.

3. What are the features of the “global assessment frameworks” proposed?

The global assessment of marine micro-plastics can be regarded as one of several elements in the overall assessment of the environmental state of the world’s oceans. Modern assessment and marine protection approaches requires the consideration of multiple stressors that affect ecosystems and how the interaction of these stressors may or may not lead to adverse effects. The EU’s MSFD recognizes ‘micro-particles, in particular micro-plastics’, as part of the overall marine litter problem.

In the present context an assessment can be defined as a synthesis and critical evaluation of information, for purposes of guiding decisions on a complex, public issue. It should have the following features:

  1.  be policy relevant, but not prescriptive  – use “if …then” approach;
  2. be conducted by a credible group of experts with a broad range of disciplinary and geographical experience, in a balanced and transparent way;
  3. reduce complexity but add value by summarising, synthesis and sorting what is known and widely accepted from what is not known (or not agreed);
  4. relate to the situation at a particular time and in a given geographical domain;
  5. be conducted according to an open, transparent, representative and legitimate process;
  6. Be technically accurate;
  7. Incorporate different views;
  8. Take a local, regional and global perspective;
  9. Include risk assessment, management and communication

4. What is work programme proposed to tackle the issue of micro-plastics presence in the marine environment? 

The work programme is envisaged to take place over a four-year period, with five key topics divided into 3 main phases:

1st Phase:

  1. Estimate rates of inputs of micro-plastic particles (e.g. resin pellets, abrasives,  personal care products) and macro-plastics (including main polymer types) into the ocean; to include developing methodology, using monitoring data, identifying proxies (e.g. population centres, shipping routes, tourism revenues);
  2. Review modelling of surface transport, distribution & areas of accumulation of plastics and micro-plastics, over a range of space- and time-scales;

2nd Phase:

  1. Review processes (physical, chemical & biological) controlling the rate of fragmentation and degradation, including estimating long-term behaviour and estimate rate of production of ‘secondary’ micro-plastic fragments;
  2. Review long-term modelling including fragmentation, seabed and water column distribution, informed by the results of ToR 3;

3rd Phase: 

Review uptake by biota, physical biological impacts at a population level.

During the meeting the participants main tasks were to:

  • Define the assessment framework;
  • Focus and fine-tune the research questions;
  • Organise and structure the upcoming work;
  • Keep the plan specific, fit-for-purpose and realistic (within the constraints of time and budgets of the Working Group.
  • Considering how to make the work programme complementary and not duplicate efforts elsewhere;
  • How to go about sharing literature databases, etc.

On this basis, the Working Group will be able to help by providing a sound scientific basis for decision-making and to answer the public demand for action.

5. What makes the proposed programme realistic? 

In this context, key questions were discussed on how to make the goals realistic and how the assessment will be used by the sponsoring agencies and other interested parties. It was highlighted that there is a need to combine existing information, from a broad range of disciplines, in new ways.

Four aspects were considered particularly important to examine to make the programme realistic : the type, the sources, the fate and the effects of microplastics in the marine environment:

  1.  The types of micro-plastics, out of the many thousands of potential types;
  2.  Their most significant sources, as the sources of micro-plastics provide the links to solutions. What approaches are available to estimate rates of input, and, should these approaches be realistic or reliable, how much is needed to know about the different sources;
  3.  The fate of micro-plastics as another key aspect of understanding the overall risk. The fate of micro-plastics (formation, persistance, interactions with biota, transport, sinks) is indeed a key unknown. It may be assumed that plastics will fragment to smaller sizes but the existence of temporary or permanent sinks has not been established. The most complete time-series records do not reveal an overall increasing or decreasing trend in micro-plastics in the open ocean, begging the question ‘where do they go?;.
  4.  The effects of micro-plastics as another key aspect of understanding the overall risk. As for fate, this is crucial to support policy implementation: ecological effects including biodiversity and invasive species (e.g. microbial, viruses), toxic effects of particles and sorbed chemicals,  adverse effects on individuals, on ocean chemistry (indirect effects on biological systems). Perhaps the most important issue is the high level of uncertainty about the potential ecological impacts of micro-plastics.

About the knowledge on the impact of microplastics

 6. What are the current state of knowledge and the knowledge gaps on micro-plastics in the marine environment?

Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth, UK) provided the current status of research into micro-plastics (MPs) in the marine environment. Micro-plastics particles, according to Thompson, can be considered to be of two types:

  1.  ‘primary’ particles representing material used in manufacture of plastics (resin beads), for industrial processes (e.g. as abrasive powders for air blasting, powders using in roto-moulding), and in domestic cleaners and personal care products;
  2. ‘secondary’ particles resulting from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastics and composite materials, including textiles, by fragmentation and degradation processes.

From his horizon scan of conservation issues, he concluded that the effects of plastics depended on size (large to microscopic), potential for ingestion (low to high), abundance (low to ubiquitous) and potential for chemical transport (low to high). Particles as small as 1.6 µm have been reported but there is no clear cut-off to nano-particle sizes.

It is thought, he said, that current methods may underestimate the quantities present (e.g. by using relatively large mesh sizes in sampling nets. The traditional methodology for separation and identification is largely based on visual observation and time-consuming. Identification of particular polymers can be achieved using analytical techniques such as Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectroscopy (FT-IR).  Spatial and temporal trends have been obtained from studies of bird ingestion. Over the past decade the total average mass has remained relatively constant although the proportion of industry-related material has declined, and there is some evidence of a decrease in particle size.

7. What is the current state of knowledge on the properties and degradation of plastics in the marine environment?

Prof. Tony Andrady (North Carolina State University), said that there are about 10,000 different plastics being produced but only six varieties or classes are produced in high volumes (PP, PVC, HDPE, LLDPE, LDPE, PS) and each has different weathering properties that also depend on additives compounded into them. Several types of plastics with a low specific gravity and float in seawater are commonly used in packaging and are commonly found as litter on beaches. However, colonization by biological films and foul ants is ubiquitous in the marine environment and this can lead to an increase in the overall density of the particle causing the particles to sink.

There are four main environmental degradation mechanisms: i) photo-induced oxidative breakdown (beaches and surface water); ii) thermo-oxidative breakdown (beaches and surface water); iii) biodegradation (extremely slow and occurs in sediment, water column – under the best conditions proceeds at a rate of only 1-3% per year); and, iv) hydrolysis (not significant). Products on beaches degrade more rapidly, while in water and on the sea bottom this process is severely retarded because of low UV and low temperature. Micro-plastics may still be having a physical or chemical impact, especially on micro-fauna that is not readily observable.

Of the various sources of micro-plastics, Prof. Andrady considered ‘sand’ blasting to be a greater source than cosmetics, and generation from larger fragments to be a greater source than direct emissions. Discarded fishing gear also represents a significant source of litter. It tends to sink rapidly and will degrade slowly on the seabed.

In his presentation, Heather Leslie (IVM-VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands) underlined that the currently existing field exposure data for micro-plastics consists of several studies reporting numbers of micro-plastic particles sieved out of a volume of seawater e.g. surface water (manta trawl) or 10 m depth (Continuous Plankton Recorder surveys), marine sediments and marine biota (ingestion and biofilm colonization). In the lab, exposure data has been collected for human and other mammalian systems (mostly nano-plastic size ranges), and marine invertebrates.

8. What is the present state of knowledge and challenges regarding the intrinsic chemical and physical hazardous properties of micro-plastics?

POPs have been measured sorbed to/into plastic particles collected at sea or on beaches, and certain additives have been observed to leach out of macro-plastic (although additive leaching from pellets or micro-plastic fragments has not been studied in detail yet). Polymer science on the other hand has broad knowledge on the residence time of the additives in polymers due to the need to know that additives will last and remain function in the material throughout the product lifetime.

We can look for these effects, said Heather Leslie (IVM-VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands) in his presentation, at the level of cells, individuals, populations and ecosystems. The effects can be direct and indirect, abiotic (e.g. synthetic chemicals, particle toxicity), or biotic (e.g. pathogens, invasive species, predation, etc.). It is common in ecotoxicity studies for acute effects to be identified at higher doses, while lower doses may cause chronic effects (in many cases the chronic effects observed are sub-lethal).

Classic ecotoxicology regards risk as being the combination of exposure to the product and its hazard; for example, this is the basis of OSPAR assessments. Hazard is a word for the intrinsic toxic properties of a any substance, including a micro-plastic. Mixture toxicity of chemicals is commonly observed in the environment because chemicals are rarely present alone. If micro-plastics contain more than one chemical (e.g. additives, sorbed POPs, residual monomers), mixture toxicity could be at play. But an organism can also be exposed to “multi-stress” via a combination of chemical and particle toxicity, and other stressors (“stress ecology”).

Multiple modes of toxic action, multiple hazards, may potentially lead to multiple symptoms when organisms are exposed to micro-plastics; e.g. inflammation, physiological stress, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity and behavioural changes.

Chemical toxicity data for plastic additives, monomers and sorbed environmental contaminants such as POPs have been extensively reported in the literature. Synthetic polymer materials contain between 4 and 80% additives in addition to the polymer chains. In principle, these chemicals could to a certain degree leach out to the water phase, or into tissues of biota which consumes them or which use the micro-plastic as substrate.

There are thus several facts challenging the characterisation the hazardous properties of micro-plastics globally:

  1.  The fact that dedicated micro-plastics studies are not numerous yet and many different types of information has to be combined to address the question of hazard;
  2. The fact that particle toxicity is size- and shape-dependent;
  3. the fact that toxicity is dependent on the specific chemical make-up of the micro-plastic particle (poly-, di-, monomer, additives, sorbed contaminants);
  4. The fact that there may be many different types of micro-plastics in any given environmental matrix;
  5. The fact that there is a wide variety of possible uptake routes and accumulation patterns in vastly different marine life forms and habitats;
  6. The fact that ther is a great diversity of potential ecological effects, e.g. substrates and/or vectors for viruses and invasive species; food chain transfer; biogeochemical cycle effects; and, biodiversity.

Persistence (P), bioaccumulation (B), toxicity (T) and long-range transport (LRT) are hazardous properties examined in risk assessments of chemicals. The synthetic polymers of micro-plastics are undoubtedly persistent, they may bio-accumulate to various degrees in living organisms, and can be potentially intrinsically toxic (especially if toxic additives, toxic monomers or other chemicals are present or if particles << 1 mm).

Particles which cannot be excreted, such as in found in the Northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis (1-5 mm) may also lead to inflammation, immuno-toxiocological responses and effects in the GI tract or other affected tissues. Micro-plastics are transported over long distances, leading to their accumulation in mid-ocean gyres.

Further, the introduction of micro-plastic particles has created a new habitat in the sea, providing an artificial substrate potentially acting as a vector for the dispersal of alien species, exotic diseases and anthropogenic chemical compounds. The extent to which this represents a significant risk is an important gap in knowledge. Limited particle toxicity data for micro-plastics have been generated for the nano-plastic size range. However, there is a large body of scientific data available on the toxicity and the human health effects of small micrometer range fine particulates, and this may provide some insight into the potential effects of micro- and nano-size plastics.

  About the approaches adopted

9. How were adressed the approches needed regarding sources, distribution and trends of micro-plastics to achieve this global assessment?  

 To evaluate how much enters marine environment as primary and secondary microplastics and quantify each type and/or identify data gaps, the approach identifed is to use production numbers for estimating primary sources and NCEAS production estimates for secondary sources, by subtracting the amount recycled, incinerated, and properly managed waste (contained in landfills). Making the breakdown by application will be useful to assess amount of additives entering environment (for example), making use of a “taxonomy” of materials and use degradation/fragmentation rates to estimate generation rate of secondary microplastics.

Regarding the input rates of microplastics into marine environment, many questions remained open such as  the system is probably not in equilibrium, still dealing with historical plastic that deteriorates into micro-plastics over its lifetime – should we the expect a time lag in microplastic increase because of this ?

 Regarding the distribution of these microplastics in the marine environment, an hypothesis to test is the spatial distribution of microplastics which appears surprisingly uniform and as this might mean that micro-plastics abundance is useful as global indicator (e.g. of ocean health), but possibly less useful for monitoring secondary sources (i.e. fragmentation). Also needed is to estimate the quantity of microplastics in biota also as a measure of exposure risk or harm.

A conclusion was also that it is critical to estimate fragmentation and sinking rates, and/or to measure size distribution and vertical distribution in water column.

 10. How were adressed the approches needed regarding the degradation and effects of micro-plastics to achieve this global assessment?  

 1/ Regarding degradation of micro-plastics and transport processes:

 Degradation so far no studies have been dedicated to collecting empirical evidence (for or against) micro-plastics mineralizing or fragmenting to smaller sizes like nanometer range in the underwater, marine environment (with or without UV, at any temperature). There is hope for developing a model for this process, and research is currently proposed in the EU to work on this in the coming 3 years. The group propose to recommend what kind of model could be made and how the model could be validated with new data.

Transport modeling of transport of microplastics in water column or in sediments is in its infancy but we do have some monitoring data for sediments in coastal areas, CPR, surface manta trawl monitoring data in some parts of the world, (albeit with little quality control of the sampling or the analysis). These data could be coupled to pre-existing hydrodynamic models of sedimentation, fish eggs, marine snow, plankton models, which could be adapted to estimate transport of microplastics –

2/ Regarding the effects of micro-plastics: the main questions raised by the Group were:

  • Does ingestion of microplastics the POPs body burden of organisms which consume these microplastics as part of their diet?
  • If POPs exposure effectively increases upon ingestion of micro-plastics, what is the increase in POPs exposure to humans at the top of the marine food chain?
  • Which additives can be detected in marine microplastic litter and are likely to be in the ocean because of microplastics/litter?
  • What are the different toxic effects to be expected from different categories of size, shape, polymer, exposure level, and chemical properties ?

About the existing initiatives and the expectations of participating organisations
      from the programme

11. What are the main existing initiatives related to the presence of micro-plastics in the marine environment?

A series of initiatives in this areas were overviewed during the meeting.

11.1. The NCEAS Working Group on marine debris


Kara Lavender Law, Sea Education Association

 11.2. The marine Strategy Framework Directive and EU-funded research of the European Union DG Environment : http://ec.europa.eu/environment/index_en.htm).

A Green Paper on plastic waste in the environment is being developedin this context. ‘Fishing for litter’ is a new project designed to financially encourage fishers to use no-fishing days to trawl for litter. This is somewhat controversial, says the report, and should not be confused with existing Fishing for litter voluntary scheme, promoted by KIMO International to encourage fishers to land marine debris accidentally caught in their nets (www.fishingforlitter.org). In addition, the European Environment Agency (EEA) is developing a tool for reporting litter as part of a Citizen Science initiative.

11.3 The NOAA Marine Debris Program (www.marinedebris.noaa.gov).

11.4. The SETAC which holded a session on the subject at their Europe meeting in May 2O12. www.berlin.setac.eu

11.4. The SETAC which holded a session on the subject at their Europe meeting in May 2O12. www.berlin.setac.eu

11.5. The Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem with limited monitoring data in the GoM LME, but which lacks long time-series and harmonization of scales and units between Agencies and within the academic community.

11.6. The Plastics Industry initiatives addressing materials recycling, waste management (e.g. Operation Clean Sweep) and marine litter prevention (e.g. provision of waste receptacles on beaches). In addition, they represent the signatories of the Global Plastics Associations Declaration and Global Action plan (http://www.plasticseurope.org/plastics-sustainability/marine-litter.aspx).

11.7. The UNEP Initiatives

11.7.1. The marine litter Strategy – 2012 – 2016

The strategy aims to manage and prevent litter from land-based sources. It has a number of elements:

An on-line forum, to be developed by UNEP and NOAA

Developing a global partnership on marine litter, as part of the Global Partnership on Waste Management[1]

Developing regional programmes: e.g. COBSEA, NOWPAC, Caribbean; regional training; scientific and technical support.

[1] http://www.unep.org/gpwm/SponsoredFocalAreas/MarineLitter/tabid/56459/Default.aspx

11.7. The UNEP Initiatives

11.7.1. The marine litter Strategy – 2012 – 2016

The strategy aims to manage and prevent litter from land-based sources. It has a number of elements:

  • An on-line forum, to be developed by UNEP and NOAA
  • Developing a global partnership on marine litter, as part of the Global Partnership on Waste Management[1]
  • Developing regional programmes: e.g. COBSEA, NOWPAC, Caribbean; regional training; scientific and technical support.

11.7.2. The UNEP Global Initiative on Marine Litter and Regional Seas

This programme was initiated in 2003 by UNEP’s Regional Sea Programme and the Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the marine Environment from Land-based Activities[2].  It has attracted support from a range of UN bodies, donor agencies, the private sector and NGOs. UNEP supported the development of 12 Regional Action Plans and has produced a number of key reports. Tessa argued that there needs to be a mix of regulatory and non-regulatory responses, with better integration into national and regional strategies. The outputs of WG40 should contribute to the Action Plans. The strategy for the next four years of the GPA was reviewed in January 2012 at the third inter-governmental review in Manila. UNEP is due to lead an Inter-Agency Task Force on marine litter within the UN Oceans framework (www.unoceans.org).

11.7.3. The Honolulu Strategy

UNEP and NOAA jointly provided technical and financial support in the development of a  Framework document developed around the time of the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference (5IMDC, Honolulu, March 2011). It is intended to be used as: a planning tool for spatially or sector-specific programmes; a common frame of reference for collaboration and sharing best practice; and, a monitoring tool to measure progress. There are 3 overarching goals:

  • Goal A: Reduced amount and impact of land-based sources of marine debris introduced into the sea;
  • Goal B: Reduced amount and impact of sea-based sources of marine debris, including solid waste; lost cargo; abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG); and abandoned vessels, introduced into the sea;
  • Goal C: Reduced amount and impact of accumulated marine debris on shorelines, in benthic habitats, and in pelagic waters.

11.7.4. The UNEP- Mediterranean Action Plan

The Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) covers the whole of the Mediterranean. Litter is considered a serious issue in the region, with potential effects on the tourist industry. A strategic framework has been developed, based on the ecosystem approach, which includes marine litter on beaches, in the water column and seabed, and effects on biota (e.g. stomach contents). Micro-plastics are included in the framework and UNEP-MAP is looking to WG40 for guidance. An Action Plan will be developed during 2013 – 2014 with the intention of having a monitoring programme in place by 2014, to be aligned with the EU MSFD. UNESCO-IOC is willing to assist UNEP/MAP.

11.7.5 The UN Regular Process

The Regular Process represents an attempt to provide a regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects[5] based on guiding principles  A variety of structures for the report are being considered based on: drivers/pressures, habitats and ecosystem services, with a summary for decision makers. Marine debris is included as resulting from human activities, with questions about the economic and ecological effects. A Pool of Experts is being assembled to carry out the assessment, the first iteration of which is based in 2012 – 2014.

12. What are the main expectations of the participating organisations from this programme? 

Of those UN Agencies with the greatest interest at present:

  1. UNEP wants science-based information on the effects of micro-plastics, with important questions outstanding about fate, population level effects, and food chain effects;
  2. The Directorate General Environment (DG ENV) of the EU, which has recognized the importance of addressing marine litter as part of the new Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), considers more particularly  the distribution of marine litter on beaches, the seabed and water column, including ingestion by biota.
  3. UNIDO is very interested in harmonized monitoring protocols and prioritization of key research questions in general;
  4. IOC needs to be able to produce good guidelines for monitoring and assessment of plastics in the ocean to be used in the Regular Process.
  5. The OECD is also concerned with providing guidelines for monitoring, particularly in the field of nanotechnology, which represents one end-member of the size spectrum of micro-plastics. One output of the WG should be a series of time-lines covering the various research, assessment and legislative activities.
  6. All participants shared the consensus that the potential effect of Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a key concern. The extent to which non-packaging waste (containing a greater proportion of additives such as flame retardants) contributes to the overall micro-plastics population needs to be addressed.

A wider discussion of the extent to which social and economic issues should be included in the work plan of the Working Group WG40 came from the fact that there has been such a large public reaction to plastics ending up in the ocean means that the scientific community has a responsibility to provide authoritative and independent advice on which policy and management decisions can be based. One participant likened the emerging knowledge on micro-plastic pollution and effects to the situation for PCBs many decades ago (starting back in the 1930s), when environmental occurrence, fate and human health effects for these novel chemicals were starting to be uncovered by government scientists and chemical industry workers.

 Reference : Kershaw, P.J. and Leslie, H. (eds.)  2012.  Sources, Fate and Effects of Micro-plastics in the Marine Environment – A Global Assessment.  GESAMP Working Group 40, Report of the Inception Meeting, 13-15th March 2012, UNESCO-IOC, Paris, 45pp. Lead agency: Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC). Contact: theoffice@gesamp.org

 Note : The Highlights of scientific reports proposed by greenfacts are not reviewed by its Scientific Board


[1] GESAMP is an advisory body consisting of specialized experts nominated by the Sponsoring Agencies (IMO, FAO, UNESCO-IOC, UNIDO, WMO, IAEA, UN, UNEP, UNDP). Its principal task is to provide scientific advice concerning the prevention, reduction and control of the degradation of the marine environment to the Sponsoring Agencies. One of the important roles that GESAMP Members are expected to undertake is to keep a watching brief for any topics of emerging concern and bring these to the attention of the sponsoring UN Agencies.

[2] an International Workshop on Plastic particles as a vector in transporting persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic substances in the oceans, was hosted by UNESCO-IOC in Paris in June 2010

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