Habitat-forming species trap microplastics into coastal sediment sinks

Jaco C. de Smit, Andrea Anton Gamazo, Cecilia Martin, Susann Rossbach, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Carlos M. Duarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Nearshore biogenic habitats are known to trap sediments, and may therefore also accumulate biofouled, non-buoyant microplastics. Using a current-generating field flume (TiDyFLOW), we experimentally assessed the mechanisms of microplastic trapping of two size classes, 0.5 mm and 2.5 mm particle size, by three contrasting types of biogenic habitats: 1) seagrasses, 2) macroalgae, and 3) scleractinian corals. Results showed that benthic organisms with a complex architecture and rough surface – such as hard corals – trap the highest number of microplastics in their aboveground structure. Sediment was however the major microplastic sink, accumulating 1 to 2 orders of magnitude more microplastics than the benthic structure. Microplastic accumulation in the sediment could be explained by near-bed turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), indicating that this is governed by the same hydrodynamic processes leading tosediment trapping. Thus, the most valuable biogenic habitats in terms of nursery and coastal protection services also have the highest capacity of accumulating microplastics in their sediments. A significantly larger fraction of 0.5 mm particles was trapped in the sediment compared to 2.5 mm particles, because especially the smaller microplastics are entrained into the sediment. Present observations contribute to explaining why especially microplastics smaller than 1 mm are missing in surface waters.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145520
JournalScience of The Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 2 2021


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