The impact of marine plastic pollution on human health tops a list of health-related concerns over marine threats in a large scale survey which could help shape policy over how best to protect our oceans.
Researchers at the University of Exeter led a survey of more than 15,000 people across 14 European countries, plus Australia, as part of the interdisciplinary European collaboration called the Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe (SOPHIE) Project, funded by Horizons 2020.
Working with colleagues from the European Marine Board, the University of Vienna and the University of Queensland, the SOPHIE project investigated public perceptions towards various marine topics, including marine plastic pollution. The new study, published in Global Environmental Change, found that both Europeans and Australians were highly concerned about the human health impact of marine plastic pollution, ranking it top of 16 marine-related threats in terms of cause for concern, including chemical or oil spills, marine biodiversity loss and climate change related effects such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
The research comes as plastic pollution is widely acknowledged as a major cause for international concern. Tiny particles of plastic known as microplastic have been found in all sea life sampled, meaning they are likely to be ingested by humans. However, while much is known about the ecological damage, including to marine life and other wildlife, the potential impacts on human health are inconclusive. The study found that people surveyed supported more research to understand the impact of marine plastic pollution on our health.