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Coastal Cleanup volunteers can reduce microplastics in water

By: Mandy Sartain / Published: Sep 21,  2017

Since 1988, thousands of Mississippi Coastal Cleanup volunteers have removed millions of pounds of trash from Mississippi beaches, waterways and barrier islands. During last year’s Mississippi Coastal Cleanup alone, 14 tons of litter was removed. Common trash items collected included cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles and straws.

Any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment is classified as marine debris, according to the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

Marine debris has harmful effects on our environment. These effects include, but are not limited to, habitat destruction, animal entanglement, ingestion and toxic pollution. Plastic is a man-made substance that nature cannot break down. It does not go away; it only gets smaller and smaller.

One of the most harmful forms of plastic marine debris recently making headlines are microplastics. Microplastics are plastic pieces smaller than 5 millimeters and are commonly categorized as primary and secondary microplastics. 

Nurdles, a primary form of microplastics, found in the wrack line of a beach in Long Beach, Mississippi.
Nurdles, a primary form of microplastics, found in the wrack line of a beach in Long Beach, Mississippi.

They come in different forms including microbeads, microfilms, microfibers or micro-fragments. These small plastic pieces pack a huge punch when it comes to the effects they have on our marine environment. Microplastics are often mistaken as food and can be ingested by small organisms like copepods to large organisms, such as the whale shark.

Not only are plastics indigestible by animals, they are also very lethal. Plastic has an absorbency property that can lead to a plastic piece being a million times more toxic than the water surrounding it. It is detrimental to the health of our oceans, and its wildlife, to keep plastic out. 

Microfiber. Photo credit: Caitlin Wessel
Microfiber. Photo credit: Caitlin Wessel

The best way to decrease the plastic problem our world is facing is to prevent any plastic from entering our waterways and oceans. Another way coastal communities around the world are battling plastic is by hosting beach cleanups.

Volunteers of all ages are encouraged to participate in the 29th annual Mississippi Coastal Cleanup will be held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.  With 50 sites across Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties, volunteers will remove tons of trash.

Students collect data during a past Mississippi Coastal Cleanup.
Students collect data during a past Mississippi Coastal Cleanup.

This year, Mississippi Coastal Cleanup has partnered with the recycling company, TerraCycle, to introduce a recycling aspect to the event. TerraCycle specializes in recycling hard-to-recycle, rigid plastic -- a common form of marine debris that includes plastic water bottles, utensils, beach toys and more.

Volunteers will be provided with cleanup supplies and are encouraged to wear hats and closed-toe shoes. They should also bring water, sunscreen, gloves and insect repellant. Volunteers will receive a free lunch after the cleanup.

Registration is available online at www.mscoastalcleanup.org. For more information, contact Mandy Sartain at amanda.sartain@msstate.edu or 228-388-4710.

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