Record Levels of Plastic Pollution on a Maldivian Island

 

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Plastic discarded on a beach in the Maldives

A study on an inhabited island in the Maldives has recorded one of the highest known density of microplastic pollution in the world.

Marine scientists measured the amount of microplastic (any plastic waste less than 5mm long) at 22 sites around the coast of Naifaru - the most populous island in the Lhaviyani Atoll and were stunned with the results.

Aerial Naifaru

Naifaru, The Maldives

Toby Patti, the lead researcher from Finder University in Australia, said: 'The concentration of microplastics found on Naifaru in the Maldives was greater than those previously found on a highly populated site at Tamil Nadu, India.

'The majority of microplastics found in our study were less than 0.4mm in width, so our results raise concerns about the potential for microplastic ingestion by marine organisms in the shallow coral reef system. The accumulation of microplastics is a serious concern for the ecosystem and the local community  living off of these marine resources, and can have a negative impact on human health.'

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Naifaru microplastic concentration. Particles per kilogramme of sediment. Credit Flinders University

Some of the waste could have been transported from neighbouring countries such as India by ocean currents. However, much is feared to have been generated locally with poor waste management across the Indian Ocean archipelago coupled with dramatic population growth and rapid commercial development.

Professor Karen Burke Da Silva from Finders University said notorious 'rubbish islands' used as landfill sites are also contributing to the high concentration of microplastic found around the island.

'Current waste management practices in the Maldives cannot keep up with population growth and the pace of development. The small island nation encounters several challenges regarding waste management systems and has seen a 58 per cent increase of waste generated per capita on local islands in the last decade,' says Professor Burke Da Silva.

'Without a significant increase in waste reduction and rapid improvements in waste management, small island communities will continue to generate high levels of microplastic pollution in marine environments, with potential to negatively impact the health of the ecosystem, marine organisms, and local island communities.'

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.

 

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