Extensive estuarine sedimentary storage of plastics from city to sea: Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, USA

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Plastics are an important new component of the global sedimentary system, and much concern exists about their transport, fate and impact. This study presents the first system-scale assessment of sedimentary storage of microplastic for an estuary, Narragansett Bay, RI (USA), and the measurements of shoreline and seabed sediments add to the growing body of literature demonstrating high coastal concentrations. Microplastic concentrations in sediments ranged from 396 to over 13,000 MP particles kg−1 dry sediment (DW), comparable to other shoreline and seafloor sites located near urban centers. As previously reported for fine sediment and other pollutants, estuarine plastic storage is extensive in Narragansett Bay, especially within the upper urbanized reaches. Over 16 trillion pieces of plastic weighing near 1000 tonnes is calculated to be stored in surface sediments of the Bay based on a power-law fit. This work highlights that estuaries may serve as a significant filter for plastic pollution, and this trapping may have negative consequences for these valuable, productive ecosystems but offer potential for efficient removal.

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Scientific Reports