Microplastics in the marine environment

Mar Pollut Bull. 2011 Aug;62(8):1596-605. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.030. Epub 2011 Jul 13.


This review discusses the mechanisms of generation and potential impacts of microplastics in the ocean environment. Weathering degradation of plastics on the beaches results in their surface embrittlement and microcracking, yielding microparticles that are carried into water by wind or wave action. Unlike inorganic fines present in sea water, microplastics concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by partition. The relevant distribution coefficients for common POPs are several orders of magnitude in favour of the plastic medium. Consequently, the microparticles laden with high levels of POPs can be ingested by marine biota. Bioavailability and the efficiency of transfer of the ingested POPs across trophic levels are not known and the potential damage posed by these to the marine ecosystem has yet to be quantified and modelled. Given the increasing levels of plastic pollution of the oceans it is important to better understand the impact of microplastics in the ocean food web.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / drug effects
  • Aquatic Organisms / growth & development
  • Aquatic Organisms / metabolism
  • Biota
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Food Chain
  • Marine Biology*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Particle Size
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Plastics / chemistry
  • Plastics / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants / toxicity


  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants