Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

'Microplastics' imperil marine life in Tampa Bay, worldwide

Years of hard work and millions of dollars went into cleaning up the nutrient pollution that was ruining Tampa Bay with fish kills and algae blooms. Now healthy sea grass beds are spreading across the bay bottom once more, and fish and manatees are swimming through water that has become clearer.

But in the meantime another pollutant, one that few people have ever heard of, has been building up in the bay and posing a serious threat to marine life in Florida's largest estuary. So far, nobody knows what to do about it.

Scientists are discovering "microplastics" — tiny shreds or particles of plastic — in every ocean in the world, including the Arctic.

Microplastics range from the decayed remains of monofilament fishing line to the microbeads that are now being used in some facial cleansers to unrecognizable debris that could come from any plastic product that has come apart.

Biologists have begun raising concerns about microplastics because they can collect and even concentrate toxins that can sicken any marine life that consumes the material. A 2010 study by Tokyo University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tested plastic pieces from 140 beaches in 40 countries. Researchers found chemical toxins such as PCBs in every sample.

Eckerd College marine science professor David Hastings regularly sends his undergraduate students out to take samples from Tampa Bay. Three years ago, after he began noticing microplastics in some samples, he told his students to specifically sample for them. Every spring they collected samples and then used a microscope to look for microplastics.

They hit the jackpot every time. Hastings said his crew has consistently found about 150 particles of microplastics in every gallon of water sampled. That amount is "high compared to the oceans," he said.

In their springtime sampling runs, they found the highest concentrations of microplastics in the center of the bay, where there's the least amount of water circulation, he said.

So far, they have done no research on where the pollution originated or what its effects might be, he said. Further studies are needed.

"Microplastics can change what type of bacteria are in sea water," said Koty Sharp, a microbiology professor at Eckerd. That can alter the most fundamental part of the aquatic food chain, she said. And if seabirds, fish and other marine creatures consume it, the microplastics may prevent them from absorbing what they need from the food they eat.

Hastings said he's unaware of testing being done for microplastics in any other Florida estuary. A national expert on the subject says the pollutant is probably in every one of them.

"I suspect they can be found in virtually every coastal bay in the world that has a human population nearby using plastic products," said Woods Hole oceanography professor Erik Zettler, one of the authors of the 2010 study.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program, a quasigovernmental group that has led the drive to clean up pollution in the bay, has not been tracking the microplastics problem. In fact, said program director Holly Greening, no one there was aware of Hastings' findings until a reporter called to ask about the subject.

Sources

Both Greening and Hastings said they think that at least some of the microplastics, particularly the facial cleanser beads, could be coming from the sewage plants that still dump treated waste into the bay — particularly the ones in Tampa and Clearwater.

Both have made great strides in preventing nitrogen from flowing into the bay from their waste stream, Greening said, but nobody has given any thought to screening out microplastics. Hastings said doing so "would be very, very difficult and expensive."

He said the microplastics are unlikely to show up in Tampa Bay's water supply, most of which still comes from the aquifer. Some drinking water is taken from the bay and run through filters at Tampa Bay Water's desalination plant in Apollo Beach. The filtering that removes salt would also screen out the microplastics, Hastings said.

Solutions

Trying to clean up this latest pollution problem won't be easy. The first step, Hastings said, is cutting back on the use of so much plastic in our daily lives. He noted that Illinois, concerned about pollution, banned the use of plastic microbeads in facial cleansers this month, and that Ohio, New York and California are considering following suit. Canada and the Netherlands are also exploring bans.

"Today when I went to lunch I was served water in a plastic bottle. Twenty to 30 years ago that was not the norm. Instead, you'd get a glass and a pitcher," he said. "And I ate my lunch with a plastic fork. … What we need is an increased sensitivity to all the plastic that's around us in the environment."

It's wise to try to prevent that material from ever getting into the water, "because once the microplastics are in the water, I don't think there are any easy alternatives for getting it out."

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @craigtimes.

 
Comments
Florida has a gem of an idea to move traffic on and off I-75. It's called diverging diamonds

Florida has a gem of an idea to move traffic on and off I-75. It's called diverging diamonds

TAMPA — Driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t just for the British any more under an innovative plan for moving traffic through three local Interstate 75 interchanges. Construction will soon begin on a $37 million, three-year proje...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
PolitiFact Florida: Did Gwen Graham vote against President Obama 52 percent of the time?

PolitiFact Florida: Did Gwen Graham vote against President Obama 52 percent of the time?

A progressive super PAC slammed the congressional record of Democrat Gwen Graham as too conservative for Florida’s next governor.The Collective super PAC paid for the 30-second spot. The group supports black, progressive candidates and is backing Tal...
Updated: 8 hours ago

The Daystarter: Lightning back in DC for Game 6; crisscross interchange comes to I-75 near Wesley Chapel; Scott omits mentions of Trump in speeches; Kendrick Lamar here Tuesday

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• The week ahead sees rain and storm chances every day with highs in the lower to middle 80s, according to the National Weather Service. • As you head out for your morning commute, chec...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Hooper: Vote against the politics of division

My friend says instead of boycotting Publix, people upset about the company’s support of gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam should back voter registration drives and get more people to the polls.And when they register those voters, ask if they suppo...
Published: 05/21/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Angels game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Sunday’s Rays-Angels game

* It's always interesting to think of how many amazing plays you see made in a game, then often a simple one — such as the fourth-inning comebacker to Rays RHP Matt Andriese — gets messed up and costs teams heavily, as that led to two run...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: Pitching plan works, until Sergio Romo leaves in second inning

Rays journal: Pitching plan works, until Sergio Romo leaves in second inning

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Doubling down on their innovativeness and starting veteran reliever Sergio Romo for a second straight day worked out fine Sunday for the Rays.It was the less-effective pitchers who followed, plus the ineffectiveness of their h...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

WINNIPEG — The Vegas Golden Knights are going to the Stanley Cup final — with a chip on their shoulder."Everybody on this team has something to prove," forward Ryan Reaves said. "We call ourselves 'The Golden Misfits' for a reason. We're ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
What a long, strange and winning road trip it was for Rays

What a long, strange and winning road trip it was for Rays

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The nearly Yanny-vs.-Laurel level national debate over their latest pitching strategy innovation of starting relievers isn't quite as entertaining today. The In-N-Out burgers in the clubhouse after the game weren't as tasty. T...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Chief US hurricane forecaster: Education key to storm prep

Chief US hurricane forecaster: Education key to storm prep

WEST PALM BEACH — The new U.S. National Hurricane Center director says learning about specific storm hazards is key to preparing for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. Ken Graham leads the U.S. government’s hurricane forecasting hub in Miami. At...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Unveiling for

Unveiling for "Fortune Taylor Bridge" marker rained out, but celebration continues indoors

TAMPA — There’s a saying that everyone dies twice, Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco said Sunday: Once when they take their last breath. And again the last time someone mentions their name.So in this case, he said, the name "Fortune Taylor" ...
Updated: 10 hours ago