Microplastic distribution and composition on two Galápagos island beaches, Ecuador: Verifying the use of citizen science derived data in long-term monitoring

Jen S. Jones, Anne Guézou, Sara Medor, Caitlin Nickson, Georgie Savage, Daniela Alarcón-Ruales, Tamara S. Galloway, Juan Pablo Muñoz-Pérez, Sarah E. Nelms, Adam Porter, Martin Thiel, Ceri Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Monitoring beach plastic contamination across space and time is necessary for understanding its sources and ecological effects, and for guiding mitigation. This is logistically and financially challenging, especially for microplastics. Citizen science represents an option for sampling accessible sites to support long term monitoring, but challenges persist around data validation. Here we test a simple citizen science methodology to monitor visible microplastic contamination on sandy beaches using a standard quadrat unit (50 cm × 50 cm x 5 cm depth) sieved to 1 mm, to support the analysis of microplastic on two islands within the marine protected area of the Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador (San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz islands). High school and university students undertook supervised sampling of two beaches in 2019–2020 collecting over 7000 particles. A sub-sample of the suspected microplastics collected (n = 2,213, ∼30% total) were analysed using FTIR spectrometry, confirming 93% of particles >1 mm visually identified by students were microplastics or rubber, validating this method as a crowd-sourced indicator for microplastic contamination. These data provide important insights into the plastic contamination of Galápagos, revealing plastic abundances of 0–2524 particles m−2 over the two beaches (the highest reported in Galápagos). Strong accumulation gradients were measured parallel to the waterline at Punta Pitt (San Cristobal island) and perpendicular to the waterline at Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz island), where four-fold higher concentrations were recorded at the sea turtle nesting habitat on the back-beach dune. No significant seasonal trends were measured during one year. These results demonstrate the value of citizen science in filling spatiotemporal knowledge gaps of beach contamination to support intervention design and conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120011
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Volume311
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2022

Keywords

  • Community science
  • Eastern pacific
  • Marine debris
  • Monitoring
  • Plastic pollution

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