Marine Anthropogenic Litter

Over the year I have been putting together a chapter to contribute towards a Springer published Open Access book “Marine Anthropogenic Litter”. The book is an expansive summary of the state of knowledge on all aspects of marine anthropogenic litter, including the distribution and biological implications of plastics and microplastics, as well as the socio-economic implications.

© Springer

A few months ago I received my copy of Marine Anthropogenic Litter. The book has been made available through open access, which means you can download the whole book, or separate chapters at the links below.

The book was published in June 2015, and I have enjoyed dipping into each of the chapters to read the other authors contributions. The editors, Melanie Bergmann and Lars Gutow from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and Michael Klages from the University of Gothenburg’s Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences, brought together a huge variety of experts to contribute.

The book consists of 5 sections: A historical synopsis of marine litter research,abiotic aspects of litter pollution, biological and ecological implications of marine litter, microplastics,

I’ve tried to summarise each of the 16 chapter in two sentences and if you click on the title it will take you to the whole chapter on the springer website.

I had a great time contributing to this book (Chapter 10!), and hope you enjoy reading it.

Published by Amy Lusher


Chapter summaries

1. A brief History of Marine Litter Research. Ryan.

As the title says, the history of marine litter research and the rapid development of the topic and key conferences. From the first reports of entanglement and ingestion in the 1960s to the current focus on microplastics and associated chemicals transferring to the marine food web.

2. Global Distribution, Composition and Abundance of Marine Litter. Galgani et al.

Describes marine litter, primarily plastics, global abundance and composition. Plastics have been recorded on beaches, floating on the sea surface and accumulating in the deep sea.

3. Persistence of Plastic Litter in the OceansAndrady

Describes the physical and chemical process involved in the breakdown of plastics in the marine environment.

4. Deleterious Effects of Litter on Marine Life. Kühn et al.

A summary of the implications and effects of marine litter on wildlife, including entanglement and ingestion.

5. The Complex Mixture, Fate and Toxicity of Chemicals Associated with Plastic Debris in the Marine Environment. Rochman

Plastics are more than just a mechanistic threat to marine animals, this chapter looks the toxicity of chemicals and their health implications.

6. Marine Litter as Habitat and Dispersal Vector. Kiessling et al.

This chapter looks at how plastics facilitate the movement of marine organisms which colonise floating material, including invasive species.

7. Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Sources, Consequences and Solutions. Thompson

A synopsis of microplastic research to date.

8. Methodology Used for the Detection and Identification of Microplastics—A Critical Appraisal. Löder et al.

A critical appraisal of the research methods used when identifying microplastics in the field and marine biota.

9. Sources and Pathways of Microplastics to Habitats. Browne

An outline of the primary and secondary sources of microplastics

10. Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Distribution, Interactions and Effects. Lusher.

The global distribution and environmental impacts of microplastics.

11.Modeling the Role of Microplastics in Bioaccumulation of Organic Chemicals to Marine Aquatic Organisms. A Critical Review. Koelmans

A critical evaluation of the transfer of environmental contaminants to marine organisms using a modelling approach.

12.Nanoplastics in the Aquatic Environment. Critical Review. Koelmans et al.

A summary of nano-plastics.

13. Micro- and Nano-plastics and Human Health. Galloway

A summary of our current knowledge of how chemicals associated with plastics may affect human health.

14. The Economics of Marine Litter. Newman et al.

Describes the economic instruments around the world which are used to reduce litter inputs to the sea.

15. Regulation and Management of Marine Litter. Chen

Regulatory measures which are used to manage marine litter around the world.

16. The Contribution of Citizen Scientists to the Monitoring of Marine Litter. Hidalgo-Ruz et al.

A discussion on how public awareness and citizen scientists can be utilised to support global research of marine litter.



For those who could not attend the #oceantalks in Dublin for World Ocean’s Day, here’s a video of my presentation talking about the RIBBS project. Many thanks to Clean Coasts for the opportunity. It was such a nice event!

PS: We now have a page on Facebook to keep everyone updated: Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey

Published by Heidi Acampora

Irish Wildlife Trust

I wrote a short piece about the RIBBS – Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey – project to the Irish Wildlife Trust newsletter. It’s great to get the word out and let more people to know about how plastics could be affecting seabirds and what they can do to help with research, so I always appreciate it when there’s space for that 🙂

Beached  bird survey

Published by Heidi Acampora

World Ocean’s Day

To celebrate World Ocean’d Day, Clean Coasts Ireland has put together a nice evening in Dublin: The Ocean Talks. If you’re in Dublin on the 8th of June, 2015 come to the Science Gallery for a great set of speakers talking all-ocean things. I’ll be there speaking about marine litter & seabirds and about the Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey (RIBBS).

For more info, click here.

Ocean Talks Programme v3 Ocean Talks Programme v2

Published by Heidi Acampora

Inshore Ireland

On this month’s Inshore Ireland, I had the opportunity to write a short piece about marine litter and seabirds and to let people know about the Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey (RIBBS). It’s great to have the chance to spread awareness about marine litter and about how people can help. Ireland’s seabed is about 10 times the size of its land, meaning that the sea is a great part of Irish people’s lives and that connection is important keeping.

'Your View' section of Inshore Ireland - April/May 2015

‘Your View’ section of Inshore Ireland – April/May 2015

Published by Heidi Acampora

Clean Coasts Roadshow

The Clean Coasts Roadshow is a series of seminars that takes place every year all over Ireland. The main goal is to promote awareness and discussions amongst local communities about ocean health and marine litter. There are several Clean Coasts groups all over the country that get together for beach clean ups regularly and the roadshow is a way of discussing results and stimulating conversations that will result in more actions towards cleaner beaches and oceans.

Myself and Amy were invited to give talks about our projects focusing on marine litter. It was a great opportunity to spread the word out about ‘The Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey’ and get more people involved. It is very common that people who walk beaches regularly either for a clean up or say to walk the dog would come across a dead seabird and not know who to contact or what to do. So it was the perfect opportunity to make sure people knew about the project and that they can contact me and those birds will be used for marine litter research and hopefully to advise policy for a cleaner marine environment.

If you would like to attend the roadshow, there are still some more stops to go and to be announced. Check here for details.

Another event to look forward to is the Clean Coasts Week, which takes place from the 8th to the 17th of May and it is the time to join a beach clean up group or create your own. You can order a free clean up kit and check for more information here. Every piece of litter removed does make a difference. And if you come across any dead seabirds during this period, please contact me on

Clean Coasts Roadshow - Waterford Stop - ©Ralph Acampora

Giving a talk at the Clean Coasts Roadshow – Waterford Stop – ©Ralph Acampora

Published by Heidi Acampora

Eco Eye: ‘Rethinking Waste’

A still from Eco Eye where I talk about seabirds and marine litter

A still from Eco Eye where I talk about seabirds and marine litter – ©Heidi Acampora

Eco Eye, the long term environmental television series on Ireland’s RTE One aired an episode about litter in Ireland. The episode was very well put together, making the viewer understand and re-think their options regarding waste products.

I had the opportunity of briefly speaking about the potential impacts marine litter could have on seabirds.

Watch the video below.

With Eco Eye's host Duncan Stewart at Portmarnock Beach, In Dublin

With Eco Eye’s host Duncan Stewart at Portmarnock Beach, In Dublin – ©Heidi Acampora

Published by Heidi Acampora

The Galway Tribune on Marine Litter and Seabirds

I had the opportunity of giving an interview to the local newspaper “The Galway City Tribune” about my research involving plastics and seabirds. It was a great chance to spread the word out about litter and the Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey, spread awareness and get more people involved. I think we’re on the right way 🙂

If you’d like to read the full story, click here.


Published by Heidi Acampora

Micro and macroplastic ingestion by marine mammals

… “When marine mammals strand, the present a unique opportunity to obtain insights into the ecology”….. (Lusher et al. 2015).

It’s not uncommon to see reports on the news and the web about the marine mammals stranding on coastlines around the world. In the most part, their deaths are associated to natural causes. However, in many cases their deaths are attributed to marine debris, specifically large plastic items that have been ingested, caused blockages, malnutrition, starvation and eventually death. Regardless of the route of entry to the marine environment, discarded plastic can be accidently ingested by animals mistaking it for prey.

A quick Google search lead me to these reports:

It is not only large plastic items that could be present in the digestive tracts of these animals. As part of my PhD research and collaborative work with Dr. Gema Hernandez-Milian from University College Cork (UCC) we have been investigating methods for the identification of microplastics in stranded animals on Irish shores.

We were fortunate enough (not fortunate for the animals), to have three True’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon mirus) strand on the west and north coast of Ireland within two weeks of each other. A mother and calf in Co. Donegal, and an adult female in Connemara, Co. Galway.

True's beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013

True’s beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013 (Image: Ian O’Connor)

It is important to note that strandings of True’s beaked whales in Ireland are very rare, with only 13 record to date, check out the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) for more details.

A laboratory procedure was developed, to prevent contamination and to search effectively for microplastics in our samples. In short, we looked at each stomach separately, and divided the intestines into 20 equal sections. Rinsing the samples through stacked sieves, we were able to remove remains of prey, for dietary analysis, and the retained material was digested to leave non-biological material.

Any items remaining following digestion were visually analysed under a microscope, and a sub-sample were retained for FTIR analysis to find out which polymer new were looking at. For more information on this technique, read the methodology section of Lusher et al. 2013.

We found microplastics throughout the digestive tract (stomach and intestines) one female whale. We also identified macro plastic items in both the adult whales. The calf had no sign of plastics or food, but did have milk, which suggests it was still feeding from the mother.

Diagram of the stomach of True’s beaked whale (Image: Lusher et al. 2015)

As we are not vets, the cause of death could not be determined. The levels of plastic found did not appear to have caused any significant negative effects on the individuals.

To read more about the study click here.

Or you can contact me for a copy of the PDF:

We are carrying out this work on cetaceans stranded in Ireland, so keep an eye out for future research.

Dr. Simon Berrow from IWDG and GMIT was interviewed on TodayFM about a killer whale stranding in Co. Waterford a the beginning of the month. He discusses the work we have been doing form 11. 40 mins on-wards. Take a listen here.


Published by Amy Lusher

About Marine Litter and Ireland

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about my PhD research on marine litter and my life in Ireland on Brazilian TV. The show aired on the 31st of January and it is available online. A short piece was also written about it. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles, but as we get readers from Portuguese speaking countries, I thought it would be worth sharing.

Watch the video here: Irlanda: Rota de Estudantes

And read about it here: Como Sera

Talking about the ingestion of litter by seabirds with the reporter Mariane Salerno

Talking about the ingestion of litter by seabirds with reporter Mariane Salerno – ©Heidi Acampora

Published by Heidi Acampora