Methods Matter: Methods for Sampling Microplastic and Other Anthropogenic Particles and Their Implications for Monitoring and Ecological Risk Assessment. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 16 (6) . SFEI Contribution No. 1014.2020.
To inform mitigation strategies and understand how microplastics affect wildlife, research is focused on understanding the sources, pathways, and occurrence of microplastics in the environment and in wildlife. Microplastics research entails counting and characterizing microplastics in nature, which is a labor‐intensive process, particularly given the range of particle sizes and morphologies present within this diverse class of contaminants. Thus, it is crucial to determine appropriate sampling methods that best capture the types and quantities of microplastics relevant to inform the questions and objectives at hand. It is also critical to follow protocols with strict quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) measures so that results reflect accurate estimates of microplastic contamination. Here, we assess different sampling procedures and QA/QC strategies to inform best practices for future environmental monitoring and assessments of exposure. We compare microplastic abundance and characteristics in surface‐water samples collected using different methods (i.e., manta and bulk water) at the same sites, as well as duplicate samples for each method taken at the same site and approximate time. Samples were collected from 9 sampling sites within San Francisco Bay, California, USA, using 3 different sampling methods: 1) manta trawl (manta), 2) 1‐L grab (grab), and 3) 10‐L bulk water filtered in situ (pump). Bulk water sampling methods (both grab and pump) captured more microplastics within the smaller size range (<335 μm), most of which were fibers. Manta samples captured a greater diversity of morphologies but underestimated smaller‐sized particles. Inspection of pump samples revealed high numbers of particles from procedural contamination, stressing the need for robust QA/QC, including sampling and analyzing laboratory blanks, field blanks, and duplicates. Choosing the appropriate sampling method, combined with rigorous, standardized QA/QC practices, is essential for the future of microplastics research in marine and freshwater ecosystems.