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Identifying potential high-risk zones for land-derived plastic litter to marine megafauna and key habitats within the North Atlantic

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posted on 2024-03-20, 11:18 authored by Samantha L Garrard, James R Clark, Nicola Martin, Sarah E Nelms, Zara LR Botterell, Matthew Cole, Rachel L Coppock, Tamara S Galloway, Dannielle Green, Megan Jones, Pennie K Lindeque, Heidi M Tillin, Nicola J Beaumont

The pervasive use of plastic in modern society has led to plastic litter becoming ubiquitous within the ocean. Land-based sources of plastic litter are thought to account for the majority of plastic pollution in the marine environment, with plastic bags, bottles, wrappers, food containers and cutlery among the most common items found. In the marine environment, plastic is a transboundary pollutant, with the potential to cause damage far beyond the political borders from where it originated, making the management of this global pollutant particularly complex. In this study, the risks of land-derived plastic litter (LDPL) to major groups of marine megafauna – seabirds, cetaceans, pinnipeds, elasmobranchs, turtles, sirenians, tuna and billfish – and a selection of productive and biodiverse biogenic habitats – coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh and kelp beds – were analysed using a Spatial Risk Assessment approach. The approach combines metrics for vulnerability (mechanism of harm for megafauna group or habitat), hazard (plastic abundance) and exposure (distribution of group or habitat). Several potential high-risk zones (HRZs) across the North Atlantic were highlighted, including the Azores, the UK, the French and US Atlantic coasts, and the US Gulf of Mexico. Whilst much of the modelled LDPL driving risk in the UK originated from domestic sources, in other HRZs, such as the Azores archipelago and the US Gulf of Mexico, plastic originated almost exclusively from external (non-domestic) sources. LDPL from Caribbean islands - some of the largest generators of marine plastic pollution in the dataset of river plastic emissions used in the study - was noted as a significant input to HRZs across both sides of the Atlantic. These findings highlight the potential of Spatial Risk Assessment analyses to determine the location of HRZs and understand where plastic debris monitoring and management should be prioritised, enabling more efficient deployment of interventions and mitigation measures.



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Science of The Total Environment




Elsevier BV

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