MicroPlasTox: Microplastics in the marine environment: estimation and assessment of their ecotoxicological effects
Highly ubiquitous, plastics can be found in a wide variety of items, ranging from shopping bags to spaceships. Due to their high disposability rate and low recovery, plastics have accumulated in the environment and have become an alarming pollution issue. Of special concern are microplastics, defined as plastic materials with a dimension <5mm. These can either be directly released, in the form of particulates found in exfoliating products, fibers from clothes or granulates from 3D printing, or formed in the environment, as a result of weathering and embrittlement of larger plastic debris. Their inherent physical and chemical characteristics - size, density, color, chemical composition - render them highly bioavailable to smaller organisms, allowing these materials to enter food-webs. Additionally, other pollutants, such as persistent organic pollutants, may be adsorbed at their surface, thus amplifying microplastic pollution- associated hazards. Hence, a detailed quantitative and qualitative assessment of the presence of microplastics is not only required, but highly recommended within the framework of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Currently available sampling methodologies are biased towards larger particles and the available studies suggest that the noticeable differences regarding concentration and composition may be attributable to the methods used, namely, in sampling and analysis. Comparable data regarding the prevalence of microplastics in aquatic systems is therefore urgently needed. Their correct estimation is also key for the correct subsequent evaluation of microplastic- related toxicity. The scarcely available studies have resorted to plastic concentrations that far exceed those found in the environment, and to significantly different methodological strategies, thus impairing cross-platform comparison. This project aims to fulfill the identified knowledge gaps on the (1) existence of protocols and methodologies for microplastics sampling/quantification and (2) existence of ecotoxicological data using representative key species. The obtained data will be made available through an online repository and, based on the experimental results, the information will be used to develop a set of protocols for analytical and ecotoxicological assessments, which will include quality assurance and control recommendations and practices (in Portuguese and English).