ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- They may be too small to see with a naked eye, but researchers are estimating there are billions of microplastic particles in the Tampa Bay estuary.
A study from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Eckerd College estimates there are four billion particles in the water and more than three trillion pieces in surface sediments.
"Not surprising, but it still is concerning," said Dr. Henry Alegria, an associate professor of chemistry at USF St. Petersburg and one of the authors on the study. "Hopefully at least studies like these will lead to policies changes in the way people deal with plastics and in the way policymakers deal with plastics."
Microplastic particles are from the breakdown of larger plastic. They're barely visible or not visible at all.
"We do know from some studies that have been done that because they are very small things like fish, some birds, all sorts of organisms that are filter feeders, they will get them inside them," Alegria said.
He said this study is the first in the region to look at how many particles there are in the bay. They counted particles at 24 stations over a 14 month period. They found on average, four pieces of microplastic per gallon of water at all sites and more than 600 pieces of microplastic per pound of dry sediment.
"These plastics provide like a surface area on which things stick to them. So we have things like pesticides, we have things like toxic metals, other forms of pollutants that stick to the surface of these plastic particles and when they're ingested by organisms they serve essentially as a transport," Alegria said.
The study revealed the predominant type of particles in the bay are threadlike fibers, followed by breakdown from larger plastics. The largest concentration of microplastics in the water occurred after intense and long rainfall events.
At the end of the day, Alegria said people need to cut down on the use of plastics.