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Microplastics in the marine environment: Sediment contaminant and bioaccumulation rates in bivalves within the Bay of Plenty

Microplastic pollution is recognised as a significant anthropogenic issue in coastal ecosystems around the world. The accumulation of microplastics in coastal environments causes both direct and indirect effects on these already vulnerable ecosystems. Limited information was available of the scale of microplastic pollution across New Zealand, including the Bay of Plenty. To enable a greater understanding of microplastic accumulation in sediment and bioaccumulation in bivalves sampling within the Bay of Plenty area was conducted. The presence of microplastic particles was investigated from sediment and shellfish samples collected across the Bay of Plenty, from Waihī Beach in the West, to Ōpōtiki in the East. Three species of shellfish were collected that differed in their functional feeding modes (filter feeder vs deposit feeder): tuangi (cockle: Austrovenus stuchburyi), hanikura (wedge shell: Macomona liliana), and tuatua (surf clam: Paphies subtriangulata). Microplastic particles from sediment and bivalves were separated from the sediment and shellfish samples in the laboratory and identified using visual light stereomicroscopy. Microplastic particles were identified and quantified into three categories: fragments, fibres, and films. Significant numbers of fibres, as well as some fragments and films were found to be present in the sediment throughout all sampling locations. The highest density of microplastic particles in sediment (up to 11,087.9 per m²) were observed at sites that were closed to municipal sewage outfalls and populated areas, and the lowest densities were observed at Matakana Island (63 particles per m²). Sites in Ōhiwa Harbour showed an average of 504.6 particles per m² at the high tide zone and 477.6 particles per m² at the intertidal zone in the sediment. Ohiwa Harbour showed similar levels of microplastic accumulation in sediment compared to Tauranga Harbour. However, higher levels of microplastic particles were found in the sediment at open coast sites. All shellfish sampled had at least one microplastic particle found in their tissues. The highest number of microplastics in shellfish were found in the wedge shell (23 particles), with the least from the cockles (1). Statistical analysis reveal that the deep burrowing deposit feeder (Macomona liliana) demonstrated an elevated amount of microplastic particles ingested relative to the shallow burrowing suspension feeding cockle (Austrovenus stutchburyi). A notable amount of microplastic particles were also found at all sampling locations for the culturally important tuatua (Paphies subtriangulata). However, comparing all three bivalve species, the deposit feeding M. liliana, ingested higher amounts than both the A. stutchburyi and P. subtriangulata, which could be related to their different functional feeding modes in the marine environment. This research provides baseline information to assess the extent of microplastic pollution in sediments and the potential for bioaccumulation in bivalve species with differentiated feeding modes and functional roles in the marine environment. The problem with microplastics is a global emerging contaminant. Preventing the problem of plastic wastes in New Zealand will require change across all aspects of society, along with policy regulations to mitigate the issue of microplastic pollution.
Type of thesis
Lewis, A. (2021). Microplastics in the marine environment: Sediment contaminant and bioaccumulation rates in bivalves within the Bay of Plenty (Thesis, Master of Science (Research) (MSc(Research))). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14609
The University of Waikato
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