Neustonic Plastic Along the Eastern Seaboard: Evaluating Potential Ecologic Impacts using Zooplankton to Plastic Ratios, and Identification of Regional Source Areas Using OpenDrift Modelling


Plastic debris has become an issue of ecologic concern, as studies have found that plastic, which has been accumulating in the marine environment since it became commercialized after World War II, has negative environmental effects and a wide range of biologic impacts when ingested. Determining how plastic debris enters the food web is the first step in evaluating the potential for plastic to magnify throughout the food web, eventually effecting humans. This study addresses this issue by using methodology established by Moore et al. (2001; 2002) and Collignon et al. (2012) to determine the ratios (by count and by weight) of neustonic plastic to zooplankton along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, in the Atlantic Ocean. Samples analyzed in this study were collected by SEA Education Association class C-297 Marine biodiversity and Conservation along a cruise track from St. Petersburg, FL to Woods Hole, MA, with varying distances from shore, between April 16 and May 20, 2021. Neuston tows were performed using a 333 micrometer neuston tow net, and were processed by hand. To determine the origin of plastic recovered at sea, this study utilizes a novel approach to the identification of plastic debris source regions by using a Python-coded program (OpenDrift) to hindcast the neuston tow samples analyzed in this study to identify likely geographic locations, using oceanographic and atmospheric conditions, and Lagrangian particle trajectory modelling. This work sets the stage for future conservation work in marine plastics, to mitigate the exposure of marine organisms and the food web to the negative effects of plastics and their additives.


Data tables are included as separate CSV and Excel file.


plastic, plastic debris, oceanography, marine biology, OpenDrift, zooplankton, SEA Education Association, Atlantic Ocean, Eastern Seaboard, geology, biology, hindcasting, hindcast modelling, food web, biomagnification, bioaccumulation, physical oceanography, biological oceanography, neuston, neustonic plastic