Plastic pollution is gaining global recognition as a threat to the resilience and productivity of ocean ecosystems. However, we are only just beginning to understand the scope and impacts of microplastic particles (less than 5 mm) on coastal and ocean resources, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. A preliminary study of nine water sites in San Francisco Bay, published in 2016, showed greater levels of microplastics than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay. Based on these findings, the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) organized a workshop with stakeholders, scientific experts, and regulatory staff to identify major data gaps and management questions. SFEI developed a Microplastic Strategy to outline the essential scientific studies needed to inform management actions.
With a generous grant of $880,250 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, $75,000 from the Bay's Regional Monitoring Program, and support from Patagonia, City of Palo Alto, East Bay Municipal Utility District, and San Francisco Baykeeper, scientists from SFEI and The 5 Gyres Institute have embarked on a two-year study to address the highest priority elements identified in the Strategy (3 minute video).
This project includes multiple scientific components to develop improved knowledge of microplastic in the Bay Area environment and prioritize practical steps to reduce pollution:
- Baseline microplastic monitoring in San Francisco Bay surface water, sediment, and fish
- Monitoring in National Marine Sanctuary surface waters outside of the Golden Gate
- Characterization of microplastics in treated wastewater and stormwater flowing into the Bay
- Rigorous method development and standardization
- Development of modeling tools to link Bay contamination to that of adjacent Sanctuaries
- Data-driven policy options for the Bay Area developed with leading national and regional experts
- Sharing findings with regional stakeholders and the public
The scientific information, tools, and policy recommendations developed via the San Francisco Bay microplastic project are intended to catalyze similar efforts to understand and reduce plastic pollution around the globe.
Track the latest developments on Instagram and Twitter: #SFBayMicroplastics
Related Projects, News, and Events:
SFEI Science at International Marine Debris Conference (March 12-16) (News)
El Cerrito Rain Garden
SFEI science will feature prominently at the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego next week:
The RMP has conducted initial studies of microplastic pollution in San Francisco Bay. Findings from a 2015 screening-level RMP study of microplastic pollution in our Bay show widespread contamination at levels greater than other U.S. water bodies with high levels of urban development, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Wildlife consume microplastic particles; ingestion can lead to physical harm, and can expose aquatic organisms to pollutants like PCBs that the plastics have absorbed from the surrounding environment.
The short (3-min) video summarizes the goals of the SF Bay Microplastics Project, which aims to better understanding the distribution of microplastic in San Francisco Bay and adjacent National Marine Sanctuaries, the pathways by which these contaminants enter the Bay, and possible means of controlling their release. 5 Gyres and San Francisco Estuary Institute are collaboratively carrying out the project.
Hunting for Plastic in California’s Protected Ocean Waters (News)
Image from KQED
Rebecca Sutton, Meg Sedlak, and Diana Lin of SFEI, in partnership with Carolynn Box of 5 Gyres, conducted ocean water sampling associated with an ambitious project. The project is focused on determining the characteristics and fate of microplastics in the Bay and adjacent ocean waters. KQED reporter Lindsey Hoshaw published a story covering the team's activities along the California coast. After determinng that the Bay has greater than expected microplastic pollution, the science team, as reported by Hoshaw's story, is conducting further ground-breaking research.
Local News: Scientists launch major study of microplastics pollution in San Francisco Bay (News)
SFEI scientists process microplastic samples collected from San Francisco Bay.
SFEI and The 5 Gyres Institute have launched an ambitious two-year research project to monitor San Francisco Bay for pollution in the form of tiny particles of plastic pollution, reports ABC7 News. These microplastic particles are eaten by local fish, according to previous studies, which can expose them to harmful contaminants.
A two-year investigation on microplastic and nanoplastic pollution in San Francisco Bay and the surrounding ocean will launch this month, led by two research centers, the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute.