Microplastics in Tributaries to Galveston Bay

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Galveston Bay is the habitat of many organisms including many species of oysters, fish, and birds.  USGS scientists from the Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center are conducting a study, in cooperation with the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, to assess the occurrence and abundance of microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 mm in diameter) in Galveston Bay and its tributaries.  

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5 mm in diameter. These particles generated from the breakdown of larger plastic objects, such as plastic bottles and bags, or are produced to be utilized in the manufacturing of large plastic goods and domestic and industrial products. These small particles are introduced to rivers, lakes, and estuaries through runoff, wastewater effluent, and in situ weathering.

What are the effects of microplastics in the environment?

Microplastics ingested by living organisms, such as birds, oysters, fish, and invertebrates, can have effects on their health, including obstructions in the digestive system, impaired reproduction, malnourishment, and death. Microplastics also have high sorption capacities, enabling the accumulation of organic pollutants, pathogens, and metals that could potentially affect living organisms. The long-term effects of microplastics in the environment are currently not well known resulting in an increasing need to better understand their extent and magnitude of their presence in the environment and their potential effects in the ecosystem.

Assessing Microplastics in Galveston Bay

Galveston Bay is the habitat of many organisms including many species of oysters, fish, and birds. Microplastics accumulation in Galveston Bay have the potential of impacting the health of these marine organisms; however, there is limited information on the occurrence, concentrations, and spatial distribution of microplastics in Galveston Bay and its tributaries. USGS scientists from the Oklahoma-Texas Water Science Center are conducting a study, in cooperation with the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, to assess the occurrence and abundance of microplastics in Galveston Bay and its tributaries. Microplastics samples are collected in the water surface of selected tributaries in the Galveston Bay watershed. Microplastics are then analyzed in a laboratory where they are quantified and characterized into one of the following categories: films, foams, fibers, fragments, and beads. Results from this study will provide preliminary information on the occurrence of microplastics in the Galveston Bay watershed that could be used as the basis of future study and abatement.