Microfibers in oceanic surface waters: A global characterization

Journal: Science Advances

Published: 2020-06-01

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8493

Affiliations: 6

Authors: 8

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Research Highlight

Unexpected origin of oceanic microfibres

© Jonathan Knowles/Getty

© Jonathan Knowles/Getty

Most marine microfibres are from natural sources, and not plastics as previously thought.

Microfibres are the fine strands used to make clothing and other textiles and are constantly shed into the environment through washing and wear and tear. Currently, two thirds of man-made fibres are synthetic, so it is widely assumed that most microfibres now in the ocean are plastics.

A team that included researchers from the University of Cape Town analysed more than 23,500 microfibres filtered from 916 surface water samples from six oceans, and found that 92% were of plant and animal origin, and only 8% were synthetic. They suggest this may be because synthetic fibres shed less in the wash, or because natural fibres degrade slower due to dyes and other chemical coatings.

The findings suggest that the ecological impacts of natural fibres, which remain poorly understood, should be considered in future marine pollution studies.

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  1. Science Advances 6, eaay8493 (2020). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8493
Institutions Share
Marine Science Institute (ISMAR), CNR, Italy 0.38
University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa 0.25
Monash University, Australia 0.13
University of Cagliari (UNICA), Italy 0.13
Nelson Mandela University (NMU), South Africa 0.06
NRF South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), South Africa 0.06