Analysis of small microplastics in coastal surface water samples of the subtropical island of Okinawa, Japan

Marine plastic debris is widely recognized as a global environmental issue. Small microplastic particles, with an upper size limit of 20 μm, have been identified as having the highest potential for causing damage to marine ecosystems. Having accurate methods for quantifying the abundance of such particles in a natural environment is essential for defining the extent of the problem they pose. Using an optical micro-Raman tweezers setup, we have identified the composition of particles trapped in marine aggregates collected from the coastal surface waters around the subtropical island of Okinawa. Chemical composition analysis at the single-particle level indicates dominance by low-density polyethylene, which accounted for 75% of the small microplastics analysed. The smallest microplastics identified were (2.53 ± 0.85) μm polystyrene. Our results show the occurrence of plastics at all test sites, with the highest concentration in areas with high human activities. We also observed additional Raman peaks on the plastics spectrum with decreasing debris size which could be related to structural modification due to weathering or embedding in organic matter. By identifying small microplastics at the single-particle level, we obtain some indication on their dispersion in the ocean which could be useful for future studies on their potential impact on marine biodiversity.

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