Roundhouse Aquarium

Microplastics from storm drains mix with kelp and other organic marine life in the “wrack line” under the Manhattan Beach pier, following the recent storms Photo by Eric Martin/Roundhouse Aquarium.

Beachline wrack

by Crystal Knizewski and Marissa Wu

Walking along the beach, you may have noticed it’s not as pristine as it was before the heavy rains. The water breached the King Harbor break wall and there is kelp, also known as beach wrack. Unfortunately, this storm has also brought trash and other debris, which is now all over our beaches. This trash is harmful not only to all the animals, but it can hurt us as well, and it contributes to marine pollution. 

When it rains, water flows from the streets and sidewalks into the storm drains, taking along everything in its path. The storm drains lead to an outfall pipe, like the one underneath the Manhattan Beach Pier. In a perfect world, this system would just return water to the ocean, completing the water cycle. Instead, it distributes large amounts of microplastics and other garbage into our oceans. 

The Stormwater Rapid Response Team with debris picked up at the Neptune Street storm drain following last January’s heavy rains. The beach cleanup team is a South Bay Boardriders Club program. Photo by Mark Cole

Microplastics are the tiny, sometimes colorful, pieces of plastic you find in the sand that are less than 5mm in diameter. Those that are made to be that small are considered primary microplastics. These include microbeads (exfoliants found in many health and beauty products), plastic nurdles (desiccant packets), and microfibers from clothing and fishing nets. Microplastics that have broken off from larger pieces of plastic are considered secondary microplastics. Things like water bottles, single-use plastics like straws and utensils, and plastic food containers all become secondary microplastics. These secondary microplastics come about by photodegradation from hours of exposure to the sunlight.

Microplastics are now found everywhere, from the top of Mt. Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. A study published in Environmental International found that 17 of their 22 human participants had microplastics in their bloodstream. These particulates are so small that they can pass through our water filtration systems – getting into lakes, oceans, and even our drinking water. Microplastics in the ocean can be very harmful to our marine life. Almost all marine animals have been found with microplastics in their stomachs. From there,  these particles can make their way to the bloodstream and create blockages. Not only that,      microplastics can bond to harmful chemicals before being eaten by these organisms. When these microplastics are consumed by commercial seafood that will  eventually be eaten by humans, we then ingest microplastics with potentially toxic chemicals.

So, what can we do about it? First, we should reduce the number of single-use plastics we use. By limiting the number of single-use plastics in circulation, we can cut down on the amount of plastic that will make its way to the ocean. We can support local businesses that use compostable food ware and containers made from plants. We also want to reuse  as many items as we can. Instead of throwing away your single-use plastics, use them multiple times before tossing them. Even something as simple as  buying reusable water bottles and straws can make a huge difference. Not only does it save money, but it reduces the amount of plastics that get into the marine environment . And lastly, recycle. While our recycling system is not perfect, when done correctly it can keep plastic in use and out of our landfills and oceans. 

Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Sources: ER


comments so far. Comments posted to may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.