FIU Researchers Find Microplastics in Biscayne Bay & Florida Bay

Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. (Image by 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University)
Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. (Image by 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes microplastics as small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long. Microplastics can takes several forms:

  • primary microplastics (a/k/a microbeads) that are used in the manufacture of plastic products or as abrasives in other products,
  • secondary microplastics which come from plastic trash breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces; and
  • microfibers – synthetic filaments used to make our polyester, nylon, spandex & other types of fabrics.

Whatever their form and whatever their source, microplastics pose environmental problems for wildlife and humans – and now high levels of a specific type of microplastic has been found in our Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay.

University of Florida researchers investigating algae in southern Biscayne Bay and northeast Florida Bay over the last two years made an unexpected discovery halfway through their work: high levels of tiny shards of blue-tinted microplastics.

The microplastics appeared in dense amounts, like an algae mat, that the researchers fear could be consumed by wildlife.

According to WLRN’s Jenny Staletovich, researchers were studying the affects of freshwater on the micro plankton in north Florida Bay when they found the microplastics “in amounts of 10,000 to 20,000 particles per liter”.

A material science professor who looked at the plastics identified them as polystyrene, and coming from a specific kind. Polystyrene is used to make styrofoam cups and food containers. “It’s hard to pinpoint what the plastic was, because what we’re seeing is fragments.

We’re not seeing the original plastic material. But it was very consistent,” he said. “There was one type of plastic. It wasn’t like multiple different kinds.”

With the findings, [Edward Phlips, a UF fisheries professor and lead author of the study published in Scientific Reports last month], said it might be time to add plastics monitoring and set limits.

Read the full article here: Researchers Find Potential New Threat To Biscayne And Florida Bays: Microplastics

September 15: Biscayne Bay Task Force Report & Recommendations

Join Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins (District 5) and Irela Bague, Chair of the Biscayne Bay Task Force, as they discuss the Biscayne Bay Task Force Report & Recommendations, release in June 2020. The report and recommendations proved to be horrifyingly prescient in light of the Biscayne Bay fish kill last month.

Saving Biscayne Bay – Afterword

Silver Bluffs and Biscayne Bay

Earlier this evening, I watched Louise Aguirre’s special “Saving Biscayne Bay” on WPLG Local 10; and participated in the Facebook Live town hall with FIU Institute of Environment researchers:

  • Dr. Tiffany Troxler, Associate Director of Science, Sea Level Solutions Center & Member of the Biscayne Bay Task Force
  • Dr. Thomas Frankovich, Research Assistant Professor, Southeast Environmental Research Center
  • Dr. Todd Crowl, Executive Director, Institute of Environment
  • Dr. James Fortrum, Director of Oceans & Coastlines Division
  • Dr. Piero Gardinali, Director of the Freshwater Resources Division, Southeast Environmental Research Center
  • Dr. Ligia Collado-Vides, Senior Lecturer, Associate Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

It was an amazing an informative hour and a half, and I highly recommend for everyone to watch for themselves.

While tonight’s event was prompted by the fish kill in Biscayne Bay last month, the underlying causes have been a matter of great concern for a long, long, long time.

“Saving Biscayne Bay” focused on the immediate crisis of the fish kill and some of its causes, including sewage leaks/spills and pollution. Images of piles of plastic & other pollution in Little River & San Souci canals was particularly disturbing.

The town hall went into those causes a bit deeper with experts from FIU’s Institute of Environment taking audience questions.

In response to overwhelming audience requests, the latter part of the town hall including recommendations for what we, as ordinary citizens, can do to help save our Biscayne Bay. Suggestions included reduction/elimination of fertilizers (especially from May through September) and the use of native landscaping; don’t through grass clipping, palm fronds or other yard debris into the waterways, reporting clogged storm drains, and education.


Saving Biscayne Bay

Tonight at 8:00 p.m., ABC Local 10 Miami will be airing a special half-hour broadcast: “Saving Biscayne Bay”.

Local 10 environmental advocate Louis Aguirre investigates the issues Biscayne Bay is now facing, how we got to this point, and how we as a community can change the Bay’s future.

Immediately following @WPLGLocal10’s special on Saving Biscayne Bay (9/2 @ 8 p.m.), we will host a town hall on Facebook Live on what is happening in the Bay.

@LOUISAGUIRRE will take your questions and our @FIU researchers will provide answers LIVE


Fish Kill in Biscayne Bay

Thousands of dead fish have been spotted floating in different locations in Biscayne Bay since Monday as water temperatures reached about 90 degrees and dissolved oxygen dropped to very low levels. They’ve been documented in photos from Miami Waterkeeper and concerned residents.

Miami Herald
Dead fish in Biscayne Bay near Morningside on Monday. Photo courtesy: Kathryn Mikesell

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating after several City of Miami residents reported the dead fish in the bay near Morningside Park on Monday. Today Miami Dade County’s Department of Environmental and Resources Management (DERM) is reporting dead fish surfacing near the Julia Tuttle and Venetian Causeways.

In an email, DERM spokeswoman Tere Florin said the staff measured water temperatures near 90 degrees along with extremely low oxygen levels at about 3 feet deep.

“While we cannot be absolutely certain at this time, it appears that very high temperatures and very low dissolved oxygen levels in the shallow waters where the dead fish were observed by DERM staff earlier are likely contributing to or driving the situation,” she wrote.


More Information:

USA in “Top Ten” for Premature Pollution-Related Deaths

In a new study that will surprise absolutely no one, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAPH) found that pollution kills.

The new data shows pollution still to be the largest environmental cause of premature death on the planet, killing 8.3 million people in 2017,2 or nearly one death in seven. These deaths are caused by exposure to toxic air, water, soil, and chemical pollution globally.

The GAPH report updates and expands on results of a similar study published in October 2017 – The Lancet Global Commission on Pollution and Health Report.

Diseases linked to pollution still disproportionately kill the poor and vulnerable; and is a leading cause of premature death in many smaller low and middle-income countries. That said, the United States makes the “Top Ten” in sheer number of premature pollution-related deaths.

The United States, the world’s third most populous country with 325 million people, makes the top 10 list by virtue of its size, while ranking 132nd in the number of deaths per 100,000 people. In the U.S., air pollution is responsible for more than half of the pollution-related premature deaths.

Pollution kills three times as many people a year as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Pollution is responsible for 15 times the number of deaths caused by war and other forms of violence each year. In the most severely affected countries, diseases associated with pollution account for more than one death in four.

The GAPH report categorizes pollution “as modern and traditional”, with modern pollution resulting “from industrialization and urbanization and includes ambient air pollution, soil and chemicals pollution, and pollution in the workplace. These forms of pollution are increasing.” Traditional pollution, on the other hand, “refers to indoor air pollution, largely caused by poor ventilation and smoke from cook stoves and heating fires, and water pollution from unsafe sanitation.” The report notes that while traditional pollution is falling, “poor water sanitation and contaminated indoor air are major killers in the world’s poorest nations.”

Traditional pollution, which closely correlates with poverty, improves as economies grow and living standards rise.

I think the saddest part of this new study is not nothing has changed since the earlier Lancet Commission report was published. According to GAPH, that report had three major messages: Pollution is the largest environmental threat to health; pollution has been severely neglected and has not received adequate attention at private or government levels; and, most telling, pollution can be controlled with solutions that already exist.

An awareness that approximately one in seven deaths in the world is pollution-related should in itself be an immediate call to arms for civil society and government actors alike. Actions to mitigate pollution and implement solutions should be urgently undertaken. However, despite pollution’s substantial effects on human health (as well as on the economy and the environment), pollution mitigation remains in large part neglected, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Health of Biscayne Bay Is ‘At A Tipping Point’

On the heels of NOAA’s study published earlier this week, WLRN is reporting on the findings of a Grand Jury convened last year to look at the condition of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Short version: the health of Biscayne Bay is “at a tipping point”.

Biscayne Bay sits as the crown jewel of our environment. Biscayne Bay is an estuary where freshwater from the mainland mixes with saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean. It is a source of numerous recreational and commercial activities, including boating, fishing, cruising, diving, and sightseeing. Clearly, the health and cleanliness of Biscayne Bay is vital to our community and to our economy.

View of Biscayne Bay from Alice Wainwright Park

The report points to three primary causes of our rapidly deteriorating water quality in Biscayne Bay – sewage contamination, excess nutrients, and pollution – and discusses the sources of each in depth. Their conclusion:

It is obvious that the health of our precious Biscayne Bay and our underground drinking water is at a state of precarious balance, brought forth by the many forces which have been discussed herein, most of which are man-made. The entire balance is further threatened by rising sea levels.