Microplastics are having a significant impact on water quality in Chichester Harbour, with an astonishing 10,000 microfibres per litre recorded in the top layer.
Experts have been investigating the state of the water and the impact on the environment, as well as considering actions that can be taken.
More than 75 people attended Chichester Harbour Conservancy’s recent symposium at Chichester Yacht Club and calls were made for more citizen science research.
David Jones, researcher and founder of Just One Ocean, said: “The explosion of our plastic society, which began in the 1950s and 1960s, has led to some worrying outcomes. In effect, today’s consumer society is either destroying habitats or fundamentally changing them.”
He said scientists alone cannot hope to collect enough data to establish what is happening, so it would help if more people got involved in projects like the Big Microplastic Survey, a global research project.
The symposium focused on the impact of microplastics, generally those pieces less than 5mm in size, and microfibres in the harbour. It was organised to bring together a range of experts on the subject to share research and prompt further discussion about the impact on the environment.
Dr Corina Ciocan, senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Brighton, noted more than 1.5million tons of microplastics waste are being generated per year, the equivalent of one empty plastic bag thrown into the ocean per person, per week worldwide.
Her research revealed there were 10,000 microfibres per litre in the top layer of Chichester Harbour’s seawater. The implications of this are yet to be fully understood and further research is needed.
Chichester Harbour is an important area for scientific research, acting as a microcosm for how microplastics are affecting many seas and oceans.
Richard Craven, Chichester Harbour Conservancy director and harbour master, said: “Chichester Harbour is a highly designated and highly-protected area of the south coast and yet we are still seeing significant impact on its water quality as a result of microplastics.
“It was important for us to bring a range of experts and interested parties together to review what we know about microplastics in Chichester Harbour, and share our collective information more extensively.
“We now need to build on this knowledge, while raising awareness of the processes bringing microplastics into the harbour and encouraging steps to halt them.”
Serena Cunsolo, a researcher from University of Portsmouth has been studying the extent of microplastic pollution in waste water sludge.
She reported that although 90 per cent of microplastic contamination is being filtered and collected with the sludge at waste water treatment works, this is then spread as fertiliser on farmland, where it contaminates the soil or returns to the water through run-off.
Oceanographer, physicist and broadcaster Dr Helen Czerski, who chaired the symposium, said: “The state of our oceans is certainly finding its way up the political agenda. This is a global issue, the oceans are not isolated bodies but this means that understanding what is happening locally can broaden our understanding of what is happening globally.
“It was encouraging to be part of this symposium and help begin to consider some practical solutions to these worrying issues.”
The symposium was funded by Ignite with contributions from the conservancy and Friends of Chichester Harbour.
Those attending included a range of experts from the University of Brighton, University of Portsmouth, the Environment Agency and Southern Water.