Microplastics found in reef-dwellers off Scotland’s west coast

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 11 March 2019

Scientists have discovered tiny plastic fibres inside starfish and sea worms at the remote Mingulay Reef Complex off the west coast of Scotland.

Mingulay scenery
© Captain Oates / flickr

These latest shocking results highlight the scale of the challenge of preventing plastic getting into the ocean, and of trying to eventually remove all the plastic already there

Calum Duncan,
MCS Head of Conservation, Scotland

The find was made in the East Mingulay Marine Protected Area, which was designated in 2012. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, who looked at preserved specimens from the last 16 years, says it highlights how widespread ocean littering has become.

Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation Scotland, said: “These latest shocking results highlight the scale of the challenge of preventing plastic getting into the ocean, and of trying to eventually remove all the plastic already there”.

Laura La Beur, a research student based at the University of Edinburgh’s, School of GeoSciences, said: “It’s really surprising to see the amount and range of microplastics in these deep reefs.

“We don’t yet know what impact small microfibres will have on the deep oceans, but caution is needed to prevent putting the seas under more stress.”

Professor Murray Roberts added: “It’s staggering to find our plastic waste has spread so far, to this remote and stunningly beautiful place.

“We need to not treat the ocean as our junkyard, and work to better understand what effect these tiny plastic fragments are having on marine life.”

Calum Duncan said: “Much welcome work is underway, such as designing a drinks container deposit return system for Scotland, a commitment to introduce coffee cup charges in Scotland, banning rinse-off microbeads and targets to ban non-recylable single-use plastics by 2030, but there is so much more that could be done. There are many non-essential plastics that could be banned, including polystyrene packaging and fast-food containers, plastic cutlery as well as activities such as mass balloon releases. Everybody has a role to play to stop the plastic tide.”

Actions you can take

  1. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  2. Help us stop the plastic tide

Did you know?…

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

Globally, plastic litter has reached every part of the world’s oceans

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches