Microplastics found in most of Taiwan’s coastal areas: NGO

The environmental group Kuroshio Ocean Educational Foundation said on Thursday that microplastics were found in a total of 51 locations off Taiwan's coastline.

TAIPEI (CNA) – The environmental group Kuroshio Ocean Educational Foundation said on Thursday that microplastics were found in a total of 51 locations off Taiwan’s coastline.

Of the 51 locations, the inspection point off Bajhang River estuary in Chiayi City contained the largest amount of microplastics, according to Wen Pei-zhen (溫珮珍), a researcher at the Foundation.

There were about 64.12 pieces of microplastics per cubic meter of seawater at that location, the equivalent of having 135,000 pieces of plastic in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Wen said.

Inspection points off Houjing River (後勁溪) estuary and Heping Island Park in Keelung (基隆和平島) came in second and third with 4.9 and 3.1 pieces of microplastics respectively, Wen said.

The group carried out a first-ever inspection of Taiwan’s coastal areas last May, sailing around the main island and outlying islands for a week and using international practice to survey the waters and collect samples to determine how much plastic waste was in the nearby waters. Its findings were made after half a year of analyzing the data collected.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters long.

Given the high density of microplastics in the oceans nowadays, it is highly likely that many sea creatures, including fish and shrimp, mistaken the debris as food and consume them, according to experts.

Humans who end up eating the seafood are then at risk of consuming plastics and having them build up in their system, experts said.

It’s unclear where the plastic waste comes from. The NGO called for further studies to determine the source of the plastic, to root out the problem.

According to Wen, if the plastics collected were classified, the proportion of hard plastics would be the highest and these likely came from consumer products, such as shampoo bottles.

The microplastics found off Bajhang River estuary were mostly in a round shape and were materials for plastic processing, which are presumably related to factory activity upstream or in neighboring counties, added Wen.

Plastics found in Taiwan’s densely populated southwestern coastal areas likely came from human activity, including in the ports, and these could have come from plastic bags, food packaging, and equipment used by the fishing industry, according to the NGO.

It urged the government to catch up with the global trend on protecting oceans by allotting funding and manpower to carry out longterm investigations of microplastics pollution in Taiwan’s coastal areas, and based on findings about the source of the problem, provide effective measures to address this blight so as to prevent further damage to the marine environment and human health.

By Wu Hsin-yun and Yu-Chen Chung