Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a local environmental non-profit, recently offered a workshop that taught participants about how microplastics contribute to toxins found in coastal waters and provided ideas for how each person can be a part of the solution to reduce harm.
For the workshops, TBW routinely partners with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) about twice a year.
Microplastics consist of two broad types, said TBW Education Program Director Jordan Findley. Primary versions are intentionally made small and serve as raw materials for larger plastic items. Examples are micro beads, pellets or nurdles all about the size of a pea. Secondary examples are those things that are “a smaller piece of something that was larger” like a plastic bag, Styrofoam cooler, cup or wave board.
Though plastic bags will break down over time, they are similar to primary microplastics because they will “leave behind toxic chemicals in the water,” she said.
Synthetic fibers in clothing are a common form of marine debris, said Findley. Microplastics in coastal water could be reduced by “looking at manufacturers and how they create materials and how they initially wash it. The first wash is often where a lot of the fiber is shed off.”
Workshops emphasize how microplastics affect wildlife with entanglements from fishing nets and line, she said.
In addition, populations of filter feeders from hand-sized clams to the world’s largest animal, the blue whale, are affected as the related toxins get stored in their bodies, said Findley. The chemicals that are left in the water have also been found to inhibit photosynthesis.
“Microplastics affect every form of life – even plankton,” she said.
Each person acting locally can be a part of the global solution, said Findley. Two things one person can do are reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastics, and get involved in a coastal cleanup.
According to the TBW’s website, the group is “dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary through scientific and educational programs.”
For more information about the second workshop of the year, visit tampabaywatch.org/about-us.html. TBW is located at 3000 Pinellas Bayway South, Tierra Verde.
“The point of each workshop is not to say that plastic is the worst thing you can imagine,” she said. “It’s to think about the single-use plastics. Half of the plastic we produce on this planet is considered single use and there are a lot of alternatives. That’s a good start in heading in the right direction for solving this problem.”