COA's Staff Takes on Microplastics
This summer, COA launched a new research endeavor looking into “microplastics” – tiny pieces of plastic – in New Jersey beach sand and coastal waters. This study was initiated in response to two observations: 1) plastic pieces are consistently one of the most-recorded items during COA’s bi-annual Beach Sweeps, so we had evidence that large quantities of plastic were breaking down and remaining in the New Jersey coastal environment; and 2) we knew that consumer products commonly washed down household drains, such as facial scrubs and toothpastes, contain microplastics as ingredients (also known as ‘microbeads’). Shortly after beginning this study, COA was invited to participate in the “Trash Free Waters” working group formed by the Region 2 office of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which seeks to advance partnerships between non-profits, government, and academia in reducing debris in our waterways.
COA got started on this project by reviewing scientific literature on microplastics sampling procedures and getting feedback from researchers in the field. COA then produced a volunteer manual, data sheets, and a video tutorial for volunteers to use during sample collection. Sand and water samples have now been collected from 32 sites spanning the length of the Jersey Shore, thanks to the dedicated efforts of students from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) high school and several Beach Captains. COA is now involved in the sample “processing” phase, which involves extracting the microplastics from the sand and water samples in a laboratory setting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lab on Sandy Hook has graciously loaned space, equipment and expertise for the processing steps, with which the MAST students are assisting. The last phase of the project will be identifying the microplastics under a microscope, which COA hopes to start with the MAST students by the end of the year. We are excited to reveal the results of our first year of research in time for the 30th anniversary of Beach Sweeps next spring!