A microplastic fragment found in a shellfish in Bay of Plenty. The fragment came from a single-use plastic.
Microplastics have been found in extremely high levels across the Bay of Plenty moana.
Tiny plastic particles have been found in shellfish and sediment.
University of Waikato master of science student Anita Lewis found the particles in every sediment sample she took from across the region, between Tauranga Harbour and the eastern coast to Maketu and Ōpōtiki.
There was not one area sampled where microplastics were not present and particularly high levels were found in shellfish, including tuatua, cockles and wedge shells.
These findings come a week after the Government announced plans to ban some single-use plastic products, such as plates, bags, cotton buds and drinking straws by 2025.
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Bottle-fed babies are ingesting millions of tiny microplastic particles a day.
Lewis said her research findings were alarming, illustrating the impact plastics were having not only on our marine environment, but potentially human health.
“Kaimoana gathering in New Zealand is common practice and this research is showing microplastics and nano-plastics are now bioaccumulating in our food chain.”
The highest number of plastics in Macomona (wedge shells) was about 1.1 particles per gram of sample tissue in the Tuapiro Point and Maketu Estuary.
Elevated levels were also found in Waipapa Bay cockles with 1.2 particles per gram of tissue and Matakana Island tuatua with 2.3 particles per gram of tissue.
“That’s a lot if you take it per gram of tissue.”
She said banning single use plastics was an important step, but more advancements were needed particularly for fibre plastics.
“What we wear is synthetic and it’s actually made of plastic, so those fibres shed in our washing machines and then they go to the waste water treatment plant, which only catch macro plastics.
“Microplastics slip through the membranes… and due to abrasion exit in the treated water as more nano plastics than microplastics.
In her sediment study she found that fragments, such as plastic bags and earbuds – that the Government wants to ban – only makes up 23 per cent of plastic pollution whereas fibres make up 75 per cent.
Tuatua fibres made up 52 per cent of plastic pollution and in cockles 50 per cent.
“Fibres are really the biggest problem.
“There needs to be some serious changes in water treatment plants and washing machines.”
Lewis’ findings will be presented to the New Zealand Marine Society Conference at Waikato University’s Tauranga campus on Thursday.