Health

Cape Cod, New Bedford salt marshes contain microplastics, study finds

NEW BEDFORD — Walk by a salt marsh and you’ll see tall grasses, a glassy water surface and perhaps a few local bird species. By sight alone, the marsh may appear to be in its natural state.

According to a new study, though, some marshes — built up for years and years by layers of sediment — contain countless plastic fragments and fibers under their surfaces, some so tiny they’re only visible through a microscope. 

Javier Lloret, a research scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and a lead author, said the study is the first step in considering what implications microplastics have for salt marshes. 

A sediment core taken from a salt marsh in New Bedford Harbor containing visible microplastic fragments. The sample was part of a recent study on microplastics in regional salt marshes, including on Cape Cod.

“Humans are the ones producing these plastics that ultimately will break up into little tiny pieces, become microplastics and contaminate our environment,” Lloret said. “So one of the hypotheses that we started with was the idea of, if you have more people living in an area, if the area is more densely urbanized, the salt marshes in that area are going to have more microplastics in the sediment. It makes total sense from a common sense point of view, but it had not been tested yet.”



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