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Effects of Microplastics on Marine Environment Focus of International Workshop at UW Tacoma  

September 4, 2008

Experts from the United States, Australia, Japan, Netherlands and the United Kingdom will gather at the University of Washington (UW) Tacoma Sept. 9-10 for the first-ever international workshop on the pervasive problem of microplastics in the marine environment. The workshop is sponsored by UW Tacoma and NOAA.

The workshop will focus on the occurrence of plastic debris in the world’s oceans and waterways, the effects of microplastic on the environment, and the effect that microplastic may have on the global cycling of pollutants. Some 40 scientists are expected to attend and contribute research findings.

“We know that microscopic fragments of plastic are floating in the ocean, settling on seabeds, and washing up on shore, but the specific consequences for marine ecosystems are still up in the air,” said Joel Baker, Ph.D., UW Tacoma professor and science director of the new Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma. “While large plastic bottles and packaging have well-documented impacts on sea life, little research exists on microscopic plastics.”

Researchers will also discuss the relationship between microplastics and persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) banned from manufacture and use in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There is increasing concern that plastic marine debris may concentrate other pollutants and further harm marine life when ingested.

“NOAA is committed to better understanding the marine debris problem and the effects of microplastics on the marine environment,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., director of NOAA's Marine Debris Program. “We share the public’s growing interest and concern about microplastics in the ocean and are bringing together scientists with this expertise so we can begin to comprehensively address this emerging issue.”

UW-Tacoma and NOAA will publish the results from this workshop along with a review of what is currently known about these topic areas.

University of Washington Tacoma, a campus of a premier research university, focuses educational and research opportunities on the Puget Sound region through its Environmental Science program. The Center for Urban Waters, a collaboration between UW Tacoma, the City of Tacoma and the State of Washington, catalyzes innovative solutions to complex environmental issues in urbanized coastal communities.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.