Marine Anthropogenic Litter

Originally posted on 13/8/2015 on

Over the year I have been putting together a chapter to contribute towards a Springer published Open Access book “Marine Anthropogenic Litter”. The book is an expansive summary of the state of knowledge on all aspects of marine anthropogenic litter, including the distribution and biological implications of plastics and microplastics, as well as the socio-economic implications.

© Springer

A few months ago I received my copy of Marine Anthropogenic Litter. The book has been made available through open access, which means you can download the whole book, or separate chapters at the links below.

The book was published in June 2015, and I have enjoyed dipping into each of the chapters to read the other authors contributions. The editors, Melanie Bergmann and Lars Gutow from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and Michael Klages from the University of Gothenburg’s Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences, brought together a huge variety of experts to contribute.

The book consists of 5 sections: A historical synopsis of marine litter research, abiotic aspects of litter pollution, biological and ecological implications of marine litter, and microplastics.

I’ve tried to summarise each of the 16 chapter in two sentences and if you click on the title it will take you to the whole chapter on the springer website.

I had a great time contributing to this book (Chapter 10!), and hope you enjoy reading it.

Published by Amy Lusher


Chapter summaries

1. A brief History of Marine Litter Research. Ryan.

As the title says, the history of marine litter research and the rapid development of the topic and key conferences. From the first reports of entanglement and ingestion in the 1960s to the current focus on microplastics and associated chemicals transferring to the marine food web.

2. Global Distribution, Composition and Abundance of Marine Litter. Galgani et al.

Describes marine litter, primarily plastics, global abundance and composition. Plastics have been recorded on beaches, floating on the sea surface and accumulating in the deep sea.

3. Persistence of Plastic Litter in the OceansAndrady

Describes the physical and chemical process involved in the breakdown of plastics in the marine environment.

4. Deleterious Effects of Litter on Marine Life. Kühn et al.

A summary of the implications and effects of marine litter on wildlife, including entanglement and ingestion.

5. The Complex Mixture, Fate and Toxicity of Chemicals Associated with Plastic Debris in the Marine Environment. Rochman

Plastics are more than just a mechanistic threat to marine animals, this chapter looks the toxicity of chemicals and their health implications.

6. Marine Litter as Habitat and Dispersal Vector. Kiessling et al.

This chapter looks at how plastics facilitate the movement of marine organisms which colonise floating material, including invasive species.

7. Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Sources, Consequences and Solutions. Thompson

A synopsis of microplastic research to date.

8. Methodology Used for the Detection and Identification of Microplastics—A Critical Appraisal. Löder et al.

A critical appraisal of the research methods used when identifying microplastics in the field and marine biota.

9. Sources and Pathways of Microplastics to Habitats. Browne

An outline of the primary and secondary sources of microplastics

10. Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Distribution, Interactions and Effects. Lusher.

The global distribution and environmental impacts of microplastics.

11.Modeling the Role of Microplastics in Bioaccumulation of Organic Chemicals to Marine Aquatic Organisms. A Critical Review. Koelmans

A critical evaluation of the transfer of environmental contaminants to marine organisms using a modelling approach.

12.Nanoplastics in the Aquatic Environment. Critical Review. Koelmans et al.

A summary of nano-plastics.

13. Micro- and Nano-plastics and Human Health. Galloway

A summary of our current knowledge of how chemicals associated with plastics may affect human health.

14. The Economics of Marine Litter. Newman et al.

Describes the economic instruments around the world which are used to reduce litter inputs to the sea.

15. Regulation and Management of Marine Litter. Chen

Regulatory measures which are used to manage marine litter around the world.

16. The Contribution of Citizen Scientists to the Monitoring of Marine Litter. Hidalgo-Ruz et al.

A discussion on how public awareness and citizen scientists can be utilised to support global research of marine litter.


Research: Marine Mammals and Plastics

Originally posted on 16/2/2015 on


… “When marine mammals strand, the present a unique opportunity to obtain insights into the ecology”….. (Lusher et al. 2015).

It’s not uncommon to see reports on the news and the web about the marine mammals stranding on coastlines around the world. In the most part, their deaths are associated to natural causes. However, in many cases their deaths are attributed to marine debris, specifically large plastic items that have been ingested, caused blockages, malnutrition, starvation and eventually death. Regardless of the route of entry to the marine environment, discarded plastic can be accidently ingested by animals mistaking it for prey.

A quick Google search lead me to these reports:

It is not only large plastic items that could be present in the digestive tracts of these animals. As part of my PhD research and collaborative work with Dr. Gema Hernandez-Milian from University College Cork (UCC) we have been investigating methods for the identification of microplastics in stranded animals on Irish shores.

We were fortunate enough (not fortunate for the animals), to have three True’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon mirus) strand on the west and north coast of Ireland within two weeks of each other. A mother and calf in Co. Donegal, and an adult female in Connemara, Co. Galway.

True's beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013

True’s beaked whale stranded in Co. Galway, May 2013 (Image: Ian O’Connor)

It is important to note that strandings of True’s beaked whales in Ireland are very rare, with only 13 record to date, check out the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) for more details.

A laboratory procedure was developed, to prevent contamination and to search effectively for microplastics in our samples. In short, we looked at each stomach separately, and divided the intestines into 20 equal sections. Rinsing the samples through stacked sieves, we were able to remove remains of prey, for dietary analysis, and the retained material was digested to leave non-biological material.

Any items remaining following digestion were visually analysed under a microscope, and a sub-sample were retained for FTIR analysis to find out which polymer new were looking at. For more information on this technique, read the methodology section of Lusher et al. 2013.

We found microplastics throughout the digestive tract (stomach and intestines) one female whale. We also identified macro plastic items in both the adult whales. The calf had no sign of plastics or food, but did have milk, which suggests it was still feeding from the mother.

Diagram of the stomach of True’s beaked whale (Image: Lusher et al. 2015)

As we are not vets, the cause of death could not be determined. The levels of plastic found did not appear to have caused any significant negative effects on the individuals.

To read more about the study click here. Or you can contact me for a copy of the PDF:

We are carrying out this work on cetaceans stranded in Ireland, so keep an eye out for future research.

Dr. Simon Berrow from IWDG and GMIT was interviewed on TodayFM about a killer whale stranding in Co. Waterford a the beginning of the month. He discusses the work we have been doing form 11. 40 mins on-wards. Take a listen here.


Published by Amy Lusher


Originally posted on 20/6/2014 on


Exciting news!! We have just returned from a research cruise to the Arctic!!!

About a year ago, Amy applied for funding from EUROFLEETS2 to piggyback a research cruise in polar waters near Svalbard to look at microplastics distribution. She was successful and awarded funding for herself and another person to join the PREPARED cruise, co-ordinated by Renata Lucchi from OGS, Trieste, Italy.

So on the 4th of June we made our way to the R.V. G.O Sars, one of Norway’s Polar research vessels.

G.O. Sars (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

The aim of the PREPARED cruise was to survey the PREsent and PAst flow REgime on contourite Drifts wests of Spitsbergen. So this fitted nicely with our aims to look at microplastic distribution in relation to water currents.

The total scientist party consisted of 28 multi-national researchers and 3 technicians from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Netherlands, Brazil (Heidi!), Croatia and England (Amy!). This was a total of 12 institutions: OGS (National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics), CNR-ISMAR (National Research Centre –  Institute of Marine Sciences: Italy), Galway-Mayo Insinuate of Technology,  Alfred Wegener Institute, University of Gothenburg, The Arctic University of Norway, Institute of Marine Research Norway, Norwegian Polar Institute, University of Bergen, Pisa University, UNIS: the university centre in Svalbard, Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences.

Group photo: (L-R) Gianmarco, Ekaterina, Ragnheid, Sam, Ardo, Jan Sverre, Ilona, Amy, Paolo, Giulia, Stefano, Simone, Mauro, Heidi, Davide, Eli Anne, Katrine, Magdalena, Valentina, Fedrica, Caterina, Dag, Karin, Leonardo, Lorenzo, Vedrana, Renata (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

During the cruise  “Team Plastic” consisted of Heidi, Amy and Valentina (from OGS, Italy). We collected samples from underway sampling, box cores and using a manta net. Sampling was conducted over 24 hour period and we worked shifts in rotation. Working at night did not really matter, after all, this far north it was 24 hour sunlight. As we got closer to the coast we were treated to some stunning views of midnight sun over Svalbard. There was a bit of spare time for some posing in the sun!

Throughout the cruise sediment samples were collected, and CTDs taken as well as a including a 20+ metre Calipso core, you can read more here at Giulia’s blog. She was taking part as a Teacher at Sea and has documented the cruise in lots of detail. Definitely have a look if you get the chance.

“Ice Manta” taking it’s first dip in polar waters (Photo: Giulia Realdon)

Heidi cleaning up after our most disgusting plankton tow nicknamed “whale vomit” (Photo: Amy Lusher)


Data entry time!! (Photo: Renata Lucchi)

As well as our sampling, we were lucky enough to see several species of marine mammals: dolphins, whales, and plenty of bird species: Fin whales, minke whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, unidentified dolphin (high dorsal fin, black curved back…possible orca….just sayin’…..), guillemots, Arctic fulmars, puffins, arctic terns, arctic skua, glaucous gull and little auks.  We have to say special thanks for the stunning photos some of other researchers took. Here are just a few of the species we saw.

Arctic Fulmar (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)


Puffins (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)

Humpback whale (Photo: Sam Fredriksson)


Guillemot(Photo: Ardo Robijn)


Sperm whale (Photo: Renata Lucchi)


Guess the dolphin….(Photo: Renata Lucchi)

As a treat, our Chief Scientists decided to take the vessel into Hornsund. It was a beautiful evening and we had a lovely time sitting on the deck of the vessel watching whales and dolphins, there were even rumors of a polar bear climbing seen in the distance 🙂

Evening visit to Hornsund Fjord (Photo: Giulia Realdon)

We really enjoyed our time in the Arctic, we met some brilliant researchers and it was a great experience. Hopefully we can go back and repeat the sampling in the future. Time to get on with analysing our samples!!!