A basket of crabs caught on the Delaware bayshore. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New funding to study microplastic pollution effect on Delaware Bay blue crabs

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is often held up as the poster child for ocean pollution. And while the collection of trash collecting in the Pacific Ocean certainly deserves attention, researchers at the University of Delaware are concerned about a smaller source of pollution, much smaller.

Through its marine debris program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is giving the university a $325,000 grant to study the impact of microplastics on blue crab populations near the Delaware Bay. Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length, or smaller than a pencil eraser. According to NOAA, some microplastics are microbeads, fibers or pellets that come from cosmetics or personal care products, for instance. They can also come from larger pieces of plastic that split apart and break down after exposure to the sun.

It’s estimated that there’s about five trillion tons of marine debris in our oceans and plastics are 90% of that, said UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment Dean Estella Atekwana. “This grant is really timely so we can advance our understanding of what plastics do to our marine ecosystems,” she said.

NOAA’s marine debris program was started in 2006 to investigate and mitigate the impact of marine debris. “Our science team is eager to learn about the impact of microplastics on blue crabs at the early stages of development through maturity,” said NOAA’s Christy Kehoe, who is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for the program. “The research conducted here in the Delaware Bay and its coast will have global implications. This will help benefit our understanding of the adverse impacts of marine debris to the environment, economy, and potential public health and safety.”

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