Widespread distribution of microplastics in subsurface seawater in the NE Pacific Ocean

Mar Pollut Bull. 2014 Feb 15;79(1-2):94-9. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.12.035. Epub 2014 Jan 6.


We document the abundance, composition and distribution of microplastics in sub-surface seawaters of the northeastern Pacific Ocean and coastal British Columbia. Samples were acid-digested and plastics were characterized using light microscopy by type (fibres or fragments) and size (<100, 100-500, 500-100 and >1000 μm). Microplastics concentrations ranged from 8 to 9200 particles/m(3); lowest concentrations were in offshore Pacific waters, and increased 6, 12 and 27-fold in west coast Vancouver Island, Strait of Georgia, and Queen Charlotte Sound, respectively. Fibres accounted for ∼ 75% of particles on average, although nearshore samples had more fibre content than offshore (p<0.05). While elevated microplastic concentrations near urban areas are consistent with land-based sources, the high levels in Queen Charlotte Sound appeared to be the result of oceanographic conditions that trap and concentrate debris. This assessment of microplastics in the NE Pacific is of interest in light of the on-coming debris from the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami.

Keywords: British Columbia; Litter; Microplastic; Pacific Ocean; Plastic; Tsunami debris.

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Tsunamis
  • Waste Products / analysis*
  • Waste Products / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Plastics
  • Waste Products
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical