High levels of microplastic pollution in the sediments and benthic organisms of the South Yellow Sea, China

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Feb 15;651(Pt 2):1661-1669. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.007. Epub 2018 Oct 2.


Microplastics, emerging contaminants in the ocean, are thought to sink and accumulate in sediments, and thus may pose a potential ecological risk to benthic communities. In this study, abundances and characteristics of microplastics in sediments and benthic organisms from the South Yellow Sea were investigated. First, we optimized the sediment sampling for microplastic analysis and found that the top layer (0-5 cm) had the highest abundance, and microplastic abundances decreased significantly with increase in sediment depth. The abundance of microplastics was 560-4205 n/kg dry weight in the surface sediments (the topmost 3 cm) of 14 sites and 1.7-47.0 n/g wet weight in the tissues of benthic organisms. Moreover, microplastic abundances in sediments and benthic organisms were both positively correlated with water depth. Fibers, transparent microplastics, and small microplastics (<0.5 mm) were the most dominant types in sediments and organisms. FTIR analysis showed that polypropylene (PP, 31%), polyester (PE, 24%), nylon (19%), and polystyrene (PS, 15%) were the most abundant polymers in sediments. The results of SEM showed rough surfaces and obvious cracks on the microplastics isolated from sediments. In addition, characteristics of microplastics in Ophiura sarsii, Crangon affinis, and Acila mirabilis were compared. Our results demonstrate that a comprehensive investigation of microplastics in sediments and benthic communities will help to fully understand the ecological risk of microplastic pollution.

Keywords: Benthic organism; Microplastics; Sediment; South Yellow Sea.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / metabolism*
  • Arthropods / metabolism
  • Bivalvia / metabolism
  • China
  • Echinodermata / metabolism
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Plastics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical