Marine Litter Monitoring activities in the Pelagos Sanctuary and the Tuscan Archipelago National Park

Over the last two years, 34 researchers from 8 European institutions, aboard dedicated research vessels, monitored more than 2,230 nautical miles. They collected 141 samples of surface microplastics, and carried out 273 visual monitoring sessions of surface macrolitter while also monitoring biota presence, thus testing the methodologies elaborated in the study phase of the Plastic Busters MPAs project. 

The Pelagos Sanctuary (a SPAMI - Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance) and the Tuscan Archipelago National Park are two of the marine protected areas where, during these research campaigns, several types of samples have been collected to assess the ecotoxicological impact of marine litter (mainly plastic) on biodiversity. The samples included:  

  • 47 skin biopsies of multiple cetacean species (e.g., bottlenose dolphin, fin whales, sperm whales), 
  • 163 samples of invertebrates (e.g., mussels),  
  • 563  samples of fishes (e.g., red mullet, sardines, etc.),  
  • 56 samples of sea birds' excreta and abandoned nests,  
  • samples from 44 rescued sea turtles, and  samples from 29 stranded animals (e.g., cetaceans and sea turtles) 

On the basis of data on ocean currents, convergence areas, state-of-the-art modelling, data from satellite-based tools, meteo-ocean operational conditions and remote sensing observations (HF radars and satellite products), a marine litter distribution model developed by the Plastic Busters MPAs' project partners aimed at identifying the possible marine litter hot spot areas (marine areas in which litter tends to accumulate due to currents) was used to guide the entire sampling design and helped assessing the potential marine litter impact on biota.  

Furthermore, monitoring of the marine litter (macro and microlitter) was carried out during each of the 4 seasons of the year on 8 beaches of the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago and 3 beaches of the Pelagos Sanctuary coast to identify the most frequent items, their sources and then guide mitigation measures (e.g., cigarette-butt free and single-use-plastic-free beaches). Collected micro and macro litter samples are now being analyzed to identify the marine litter material type (e.g., paper, plastic, ceramic, glass, textile, etc.), the litter sizes classes and the types of litter (e.g., pellets, fragments, films, rubber, etc.), the colour and the type of polymer (e.g., polyethylene, propylene, nylon, neoprene, etc.).  

Meanwhile, collected biota samples are being analyzed to detect the presence of litter in their gastrointestinal tracts and assess the effects of litter and plastic tracers (e.g., phthalates, etc.) on biota.