Maldives has the highest level of microplastic pollution on the planet, according to a recent article that has been accepted to be published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny (<5mm) pieces of plastic that are designed for commercial use like in cosmetics (primary) and those that break off from bigger plastic waste like bottles or clothing (secondary). The main sources of microplastics are summarised in the figure below.
Credit - Encounter Edu
Naifaru was the main test site where the team recorded levels between 55 - 1127.5 microplastics in every kg of seawater. This is roughly 5x higher than the densely populated Tamil Nadu, India!
Why is this a problem?
The threat isn’t just limited to marine ecosystems (although this alone is bad enough) but this could affect us, humans, directly too.
The problem with this is that the particles are small enough to be eaten by the smallest fish. This means that there will be an accumulation of more and more microplastic up the food chain. The researchers are now looking at the stomach content of coral reef fish to see if they have bellies full of microplastics in a follow-up study.
Credit - Flinders University and Phys.org
Should we be concerned?
The simple answer is we should be very concerned! Given that Maldives has one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems and on top of this, the people rely on this rich marine life for food, export and tourism. All of these are in serious threat if these levels of microplastics persist, let alone increase!
What can be done?
The study suggests that this is mainly due to the country's heavy reliance on imported goods (mainly in plastic), poor waste management systems in place and land reclamation activities.
“The most effective approach for improving waste management is reducing waste production" (Willmott and Graci 2012)
On an individual level, it is dire that we evaluate our habits and work to reduce our waste footprint. It begins with the most important 'R' of sustainability - refusal! Refuse what you don't need, especially plastic that can persist for hundreds of years.
On a corporate level, sustainability needs to be put at the forefront of business and innovation.
On a national level, the cause of this surge need to addressed while taking immediate action for the reversal of this before it's too late!
Paper referred in this article - Toby B.Patti, Emily K.Fobert, Simon E.Reeves, Karen Burkeda Silva, Spatial distribution of microplastics around an inhabited coral island in the Maldives, Indian Ocean, Science of the Total Environment, Pre-Proof
Here is a link to the paper.