Microplastics in the Mediterranean

A Rocha is actively involved applying theology, environmental education and scientific study to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea from our base at les Courmettes. 

Plastics in the ocean have had their dose of media coverage, and it’s about time ! Now a well known problem, there are efforts from NGOs, the general public and our politicians to reduce the impact of plastics on marine flora and fauna. As of 2020, all disposable plastic cutlery will be banned in France, and in 2016 plastic bags smaller than 10 litres and with a thickness less than 50 microns have been banned. These are steps in the right direction.


Preindustrial pellet © Aline Porteous

But the plastic that has already and is still finding its way into the marine environment does not disappear. Over time, it breaks down into small pieces, or fragments, which are harmful to a wide range of organisms. Furthermore, microplastics (<5mm) can enter into the marine environment already in this size category: the small plastic pellets or ‘nurdles’ that act as the base material for plastic production and beads added to water to help scrub industrial machines are two examples, but closer to home include the microbeads found in many cosmetic products (face scrubs, etc.) and even toothpastes! Not all of these are removed by wastewater treatment processes (some estimates suggest that as many as half of the micro-beads contained in cosmetic products would pass straight through the wastewater treatment system!) and so are released into waterways and oceans. More information.

At A Rocha, we are contributing to the microplastic research effort and to environmental education efforts: what is the problem, what is its cause, and what can we all do to help? We have developed a protocol to sample microplastics on sandy beaches, and are currently using it to characterise microplastic pollution in the Camargue, a nature reserve at the mouth of the Rhone (France). Working with a oceanographic lab, we are analysing the samples to see which types of microplastics occur most often and how they compare to those found out at sea. This data can help to target campaigns and advocacy efforts to the main sources, and will complement existing work in the Mediterranean. The studies also allow participation from beach users and organised groups, who can take part in collecting the samples and learn how they can help reduce the presence of microplastics in the marine environment. Through this work, we will better understand the sources of microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean and how the microplastics degrade over time. This will in turn enable more effective solutions to be identified for reducing the addition of microplastics to the Mediterranean Ocean.

Do you want to help?

Join our field researchers to collect samples and help process them in the comfort of A Rocha’s Les Tourades Field Study Centre in Provence – find out more volunteering details


Sampling on the beach © Aquarela Imagens