News ID: 254530
Published: 0937 GMT June 19, 2019

Searching for the source of microplastics in European rivers

Searching for the source of microplastics in European rivers

"Microbeads! A blue one -- and a pink one!"

Armed with a pair of tweezers, Jean-Francois Ghiglione examines the samples fished from London's Thames River by scientists in search of the source of microplastic pollution, AFP wrote.

"We find completely different things to what we see in the oceans, for example very tiny microbeads from cosmetic products," said Ghiglione, head bent over a magnifying glass on the ship of the Tara Foundation, which is conducting the study.

From the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean, the scientific vessel has observed the omnipresence of microplastic particles, often no bigger than rice grains, in the seas of the world.

But this time, Tara decided to throw its nets across 10 of the 15 biggest European rivers, from the Thames to the Tiber, the Rhine to the Seine.

Around eight million tons of plastic end up in the world's oceans every year.

Scientists long believed that ocean microplastics came from larger fragments that were broken down over time by currents, bacteria and UV light.

But a growing body of research shows how the microscopic particles are already in rivers before they reach the high seas.


'Stop the leakage'


The Tara mission aims to "understand where it comes from: The gutters, industry, our own everyday life," says Romain Trouble, director of the foundation.

"It's on our doorstep... the biggest problem with plastic in the sea is on land."

Trouble said he is convinced it is possible to "stop the leakage", starting with getting rid of "unnecessary packaging".

But to stem the flow more effectively, the exact origin of the pollution must be found.

For this reason, the Tara team will cast their nets of fine mesh across 10 rivers at sites of varying salinity, upstream and downstream of big cities.

A meticulous process in the ship's onboard laboratory sees each piece of plastic between 1-5 millimeters picked out with tweezers, cut in two and individually placed in thousands of different tubes.

Half of the tubes stored until November will be used to identify the types of plastic and trace it back to the original product.

The other half will allow the scientists to make a list of all the species inhabiting the ‘plastisphere’, an artificial habitat, used as a ‘raft’ by numerous aquatic microorganisms.


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