Microplastics: More than Just a Saltwater Problem

Nicole Burdick1, Maeve H Ahern2, Daniel Welsh3 and Elizabeth S Gordon2, (1)Fitchburg State University, Biology, Fitchburg, United States, (2)Fitchburg State University, Earth and Geographic Sciences, Fitchburg, MA, United States, (3)Fitchburg State University, Biology/Chemistry, Fitchburg, MA, United States
Microplastics, defined as plastic pieces between 0.3 and 5.0mm, are potentially harmful to our oceans and aquatic life. As major conduits from land to sea, rivers and streams may be an important source of microplastics to the ocean. In this study, we examined the concentration of microplastics in tributaries of the Nashua River watershed, located in central Massachusetts, USA. Water samples were collected for microplastic analysis from 14 sites throughout the watershed, including both urban and rural environments. Microplastics were also measured in the digestive tracts of fish from five of those sites. Microplastics were found in each water and fish sample analyzed. Numbers in water samples ranged from 38 to 407 pieces. Preliminary total counts of microplastics in individual fish, most of which were fibers, ranged from 9 to 208 pieces. The results of this study indicate microplastics are abundant, even in rural streams and associated aquatic life, which represent a potential pathway of plastics to the ocean.