Macro & Micro Plastics Pollution in Orkney

94.37% of the sea grass  in Halley, Orkney was shown to have micro plastics attached to the plants

Orkney Field Club host a range of interesting talks throughout the year and on Friday 22nd of February the subject was ‘From Macro to Micro Plastics Pollution in the Orkney Islands’. The talk was delivered by Dr Angela Capper of ICIT Heriot Watt University.

plastics 1 NM

Regular readers of the Orkney News will be aware of this issue when we covered the Ghost Fishing event in Stromness last year.

Ghost Fishing UK and the Big Scapa Clean Up

Three quarters of all litter found on beaches in the UK is plastic.

plastic litterOrkney being a group of islands has litter washing onto its shorelines from home and very distant places. Macro plastics are the large pieces of litter which can be spotted and are retrieved during beach cleans or washed back out to sea.

Claire Walker beach clean up

Claire and Libby Walker found a broken box on Skaill beach and filled it with plastic within 20 minutes. It was mostly nylon rope and netting, a few shotgun cartridges and plastic bottles.

In Orkney, unsurprisingly half of that is made up of rope but also a large number of pegs from mussel aquaculture (coming from Shetland), shotgun cartridges and the plastic coating off creel covers.

plastics 2 NM Dr Angela Capper

Dr Angela Capper

Plastic takes a long time to degrade and as it scours about in the oceans it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces – micro plastics. Dr Angela Capper studies pieces that are under 5mm in size.

Micro Plastics infest all levels of our seas. Some float on the surface attracting bacteria and making them tasty morsels for fish. Over time the particles not eaten will become heavier and sink to the bottom. They have even been found attached to sea grasses.

98% of the micro plastics ending up in the sea have come from the land – 66% as run off from roads, 25% from waste water ( including fibres detaching themselves in washing machines) and 7% are wind blown.

Sea grass beds are incredibly important as habitats for a wide range of species. 94.37% of the sea grass  in Halley, Orkney was shown to have micro plastics attached to the plants.

In a recent study of fish samples micro plastics were found in all the specimens. The micro plastics were found in the guts and the gills. Other chemicals also attach themselves to the plastics. All of this goes into the food chain.

A great deal of research is needed about the effect of micro plastics on the health of everything sharing this planet. Every day we breathe in tiny particles of plastic. Even when we reuse plastic it will still eventually produce micro fibres and flakes.

gannet with plastic B Bell

gannet with plastic netting , photo B Bell

Can we find a solution to a problem created by ourselves? One suggestion is the production of Bio Plastics . These are made from plant material but also take a long time to degrade. You can read more about them here: What you need to know about plant-based plastics



plastics 3Yet another excellent and informative talk from the Orkney Field Cub.

Reporters: Fiona Grahame and Nick Morrison

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