[UW Today]: UW oceanography senior finds plastic microfibers are common on Puget Sound beaches

Profile picture of Frances Eshom-Arzadon
Oceanography senior Frances Eshom-Arzadon collects beach sediment at Edmonds Marina Beach in February. She sampled each beach in the same way and at the same point in the tidal cycle to allow comparisons between sites.

This article was originally published on UW Today: Hickey, H. (2017, June 29). UW oceanography senior finds plastic microfibers are common on Puget Sound beaches. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/news/. [link to original article]. Frances Eshom-Arzadon is a major in Oceanography and a Minor in Marine Biology. The COASST lab is recruiting current UW undergrads, and you can find out more about COASST internships here.

As the infamous floating “garbage patch” churns up bits of plastic in the tropical Pacific Ocean, a University of Washington undergraduate has discovered a related problem much closer to home: nearly invisible bits of plastic on Puget Sound beaches.

As a year-long project toward a UW bachelor’s degree, the oceanography major visited 12 beaches around Puget Sound to tally the number of microplastics, generally classified as fragments between 0.3 and 5 millimeters (1/100 to 1/5 of an inch) or smaller than a grain of rice.

While she found all the Puget Sound beaches to be clean when compared with the Mediterranean Sea, local shores are far from pristine. Residents also may be surprised to learn that polar fleece and other synthetic fibers are the main source of plastic fragments on our beaches.

“Plastics can harm marine life, and can in some cases be the primary cause of death,” said Frances Eshom-Arzadon, who graduated in June. “Smaller organisms ingest microplastics, and then larger organisms, including humans, consume it indirectly.”

As part of her senior thesis project, Eshom-Arzadon visited each location once at the same time in the tidal cycle between November and February. She scraped sediment from an area just below the wrack line, the line of debris left by the high tide. She visited beaches from Tolmie State Park near Olympia, along the Seattle and Everett shorelines and as far out as Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula, a control site far from populated areas.

Back in the lab, Eshom-Arzadon dried the samples, then used chemicals and weight-based techniques to separate the plastic from sand and other material.

Her sampling methods followed the procedures established by Julie Masura, a UW Tacoma lecturer who has been tracking marine microplastics in the region for almost a decade.Her results show that small plastics are widespread along the shore of Puget Sound. All 12 samples contained microplastics, at an average of 1,776 pieces per 3-foot-square sampling plot. The highest concentration of plastics by number was at Howarth Park in Everett, followed by Carkeek Park and Alki Beach Park in Seattle. The cleanest beaches were at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park and Edmonds Marina Beach, both situated on points of land near ferry terminals.

“Plastics, specifically microplastics, have been found in over 90 percent of the surface samples collected in Puget Sound since 2008,” said Masura, who was not involved in this course. “We have yet to correlate the presence of plastic and other environmental factors.”

Eshom-Arzadon’s project included counting the plastic fragments and classifying them into six types: Styrofoam, fibers, fragments, flakes, films and synthetic sponges. Some 73 percent of the pieces she collected on local beaches were microfibers. These thin strands are not from the breakdown of larger litter, such as plastic bottles or disposable cutlery; rather, they start when fabrics shed fibers that flow out with laundry water after washing synthetic fabrics, like polar fleece or other types of polyester.

“I wasn’t expecting to find so many fibers,” Eshom-Arzadon said. “When people do laundry, all their effluent with those microfibers is getting washed out. Those fibers come off clothes and get washed out already in the size of microplastics, so they can’t be filtered out.”

She noted that front-loading machines have been shown to generate fewer microfibers in washing water, while Patagonia and other clothing companies have recently begun efforts to produce synthetic fabrics that shed less fuzz.

The average overall concentration of microplastics was slightly higher on Seattle city beaches, providing only weak support for Eshom-Arzadon’s hypothesis that microplastics would be more common in densely populated areas. But she and her advisers concluded that a one-time sample was probably not enough to properly rank the locations.

“All of these beaches are cleaned by volunteer groups, and it’s not clear which are cleaned more regularly,” Eshom-Arzadon said. “Ocean currents can also carry debris to different places, and can affect how much litter you would find in a one-time sampling.”

Eshom-Arzadon became interested in this topic after doing an undergraduate service learning project with the UW-based Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, COASST. She volunteered to survey beaches around Seattle and her native Edmonds looking for stranded birds and marine debris. She also took an undergraduate class on marine pollution that included a section on marine plastics.

Two other UW oceanography senior thesis projects this year also looked at microplastics. Ty Mahoney sampled microplastics in Hood Canal and faster-flowing waters around Whidbey Island, and found that the debris tends to accumulate in the more stagnant sections. Gerrad Hofmans sampled water from near the source of the glacier-fed Snohomish River down to its mouth in Puget Sound, finding that the concentration of microplastics increases on the way downstream.

“Over the past three years we’ve had a student each year looking at plastics, but Frances is the first student we’ve had that wanted to sample beaches,” said Kathy Newell, a research scientist in UW School of Oceanography who supervised all three undergraduate research projects. “Some studies suggest plastics accumulate in certain areas. There are so many variables — tides, winds, currents, time of year — and there hasn’t been a long-term study on plastics in Puget Sound.”

Those results could help inform the work of Masura and others who are trying to measure and understand plastic pollution locally.

“As with many research groups, we find that plastics are quite prolific,” Masura said.

Her group is working to develop an interactive map that will display the results of the samples collected with the support of government agencies, colleges, schools and nonprofits.


For more information, contact Eshom-Arzadon at eshomf@uw.edu or 425-501-7018, Masura at 253-692-4317 or jmasura@uw.edu, and Newell at newell@ocean.washington.edu or 206-543-6119.

[UW Today]: Video shows invasive lionfish feasting on new Caribbean fish species

from UW Today, June 1, 2017. Note: Luke Tornabene teaches classes applied towards the Marine Biology minor such as “FISH 311: Biology of Fishes”.

Caribbean coral reefs have been invaded by lionfish, showy predators with venomous spines. And they’ve found a new market to exploit: the ocean’s “twilight zone” — an area below traditional SCUBA diving depths, where little is known about the reefs or the species that inhabit them.

Researchers from the University of Washington and Smithsonian Institution have reported the first observed case of lionfish preying upon a fish species that had not yet been named. Their results, published May 25 in PLOS ONE, may indicate an uncertain future for other fish found in the largely unexplored deep-ocean coral reefs.

“Lionfish aren’t going anywhere, and we are faced with the fact that they are permanent residents on Caribbean reefs,” said lead author Luke Tornabene, curator of fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and an assistant professor at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “The hope is that the learning curve is quick and other fish realize lionfish are predators. Right now, studies have shown some prey species to be pretty naïve.”

read more at UW Today

[UW Today]: Invasive green crab found at Dungeness Spit

from UW Today, April 26, 2017, “Invasive green crab found at Dungeness Spit”

A European green crab found at Dungeness Spit, Sequim, this month.

A new population of invasive European green crab has been found at Dungeness Spit, near Sequim, Washington, rekindling concern over the potential for damage to local marine life and shorelines.

The first discovery of this globally damaging invasive crab in Washington’s Salish Sea was made by Crab Team volunteers last August on San Juan Island, followed quickly by a detection at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, near Mt. Vernon. In both cases, rapid-response trapping and removal by a joint-agency team showed that the crabs were present, but still very rare in those locations.Staff and volunteers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge, captured a total of 13 European green crab over the past two weeks as part of the UW-based Washington Sea Grant Crab Team early detection program. These numbers indicate that the invasive crabs are more abundant at Dungeness Spit than at the two other known locations in Washington’s inland waters.

“This is a very different situation,” said Crab Team program coordinator Emily Grason. “In Padilla Bay, the crabs we found were too far apart to find and mate with each other, but at Dungeness Spit, multiple crabs are being found at the same site, over successive days of trapping. This indicates a situation where the population could grow very quickly, if we don’t intervene.”

read the full story at UW Today

[UW Today] Vitamin B-12, and a knockoff version, create complex market for marine vitamins

Associate Professor Ingalls – referenced in this UW Today Article – teaches the “OCEAN 295: Chemistry of Marine Organic Carbon” course annually. This course can be taken in place of CHEM 220 for the Aquatic & Fishery Sciences and Oceanography majors.

An oceanographic sampler, known as a rosette, during a 2013 cruise in the North Pacific. Each bottle contains water from different depths, which is how researchers collected samples of the vitamins at sea.

The New Year is a busy time for pharmacies and peddlers of all health-related products. In the oceans, marine organisms rely on nutrients, too, but the source of their vitamins is sometimes mysterious.

University of Washington oceanographers have now found that vitamin B-12 exists in two distinct versions in the oceans. A microbe thought to be a main supplier of B-12 in the open oceans, cyanobacteria, is actually making a “pseudo” version that only its kin can use.

The study has implications for where algae and other organisms can get a vitamin that is essential to fueling marine life. The paper is in the Jan. 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I think the world is getting used to the idea that all lifeforms are in some ways dependent on microorganisms,” said corresponding author Anitra Ingalls, a UW associate professor of oceanography. “This is another case where microorganisms are playing a really big role in the survival of others, but not quite in the way that we had expected.”

[read the full article at UW Today]

[UW Today]: Ocean acidification to hit West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, new assessment shows

from UW Today, January 12

The study modeled the potential risks of ocean acidification (under a future decrease in pH) on the West Coast marine food web and fisheries over 50 years, from 2013 to 2063.

The acidification of the ocean expected as seawater absorbs increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will reverberate through the West Coast’s marine food web, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect, new research shows.

Dungeness crabs, for example, will likely suffer as their food sources decline. Dungeness crab fisheries valued at about $220 million annually may face a strong downturn over the next 50 years, according to the research published Jan. 12 in the journal Global Change Biology. But pteropods and copepods, tiny marine organisms with shells that are vulnerable to acidification, will likely experience only a slight overall decline because they are prolific enough to offset much of the impact, the study found.
“What stands out is that some groups you’d expect to do poorly don’t necessarily do so badly – that’s probably the most important takeaway here,” said Kristin Marshall, lead author of the study who pursued the research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington and NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “This is a testament in part to the system’s resilience to these projected impacts. That’s sort of the silver lining of what we found.”Marine mammals and seabirds are less likely to be affected by ocean acidification, the study found.

[read the full article at UW Today]

[UW Today] Underwater volcano’s eruption captured in exquisite detail by seafloor observatory

The cracking, bulging and shaking from the eruption of a mile-high volcano where two tectonic plates separate has been captured in more detail than ever before. A University of Washington study published this week shows how the volcano behaved during its spring 2015 eruption, revealing new clues about the behavior of volcanoes where two ocean plates are moving apart.

A seismometer (long black cylinder, right) installed in 2013 atop Axial Volcano. The green plate transmits real-time data to the orange cable and then back to shore as part of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative.

“The new network allowed us to see in incredible detail where the faults are, and which were active during the eruption,” said lead author William Wilcock, a UW professor of oceanography. The new paper in Science is one of three studies published together that provide the first formal analyses of the seismic vibrations, seafloor movements and rock created during an April 2015 eruption off the Oregon coast. “We have a new understanding of the behavior of caldera dynamics that can be applied to other volcanoes all over the world.”

The studies are based on data collected by the Cabled Array, a National Science Foundation-funded project that brings electrical power and internet to the seafloor. The observatory, completed just months before the eruption, provides new tools to understand one of the test sites for understanding Earth’s volcanism.

[Read the full story at UW Today]

[UW Health Sciences NewsBeat] Tiny zebrafish makes a big research splash

Zebrafish studies are contributing knowledge in many medical areas, including cancer, hearing loss, infectious diseases and regenerative medicine.
Zebrafish studies are contributing knowledge in many medical areas, including cancer, hearing loss, infectious diseases and regenerative medicine.

It measures one-inch long. It can heal its heart and regrow some amputated parts. It shares nearly three quarters of our genetic code and reproduces at rates that would make a rabbit blush.

It’s teaching landlubbers an extraordinary amount about what can go wrong inside our bodies.

Meet the tiny zebrafish. Once upon a time, this striped tropical fish mostly swam in aquariums in homes and offices. Since the 1990s, a growing number of scientists have embraced zebrafish as a powerful model to study disease. They’re cheap, spawn by the hundreds, and develop outside their mothers’ bodies. They’re the live fish equivalent of The Visible Man see-through anatomical model.

No wonder the National Institutes of Health recently analyzed grant data and found a 60 percent jump in studies of zebrafish over the past seven years.

Across the UW Health Sciences, 15 principal investigators use zebrafish to study everything from vision and hearing loss to cancer and toxicology. They’re a chummy bunch who meet regularly to discuss current research. The Fish Club is passionate about their tiny subjects. Dr. Susan Brockerhoff, who studies retinal diseases, has been to known use “Zebra Eye” as an online username.

“Once you work with zebrafish, you realize how amazing they are,” said Dr. Eleanor Chen, assistant professor of pathology. She first worked with them in grad school, where their transparency appealed to her as a former art student. Researchers like Chen can easily observe what happens during embryonic development: cells sliding around, organs forming, hearts beginning to beat.

[Read the full story at UW Health Sciences NewsBeat]

[UW Today] Ocean acidification study offers warnings for marine life, habitats

Coral ecosystems, like these pictured off the coast of Mexico, will be hit hard as the oceans become more acidic.
Christopher Harley/University of British Columbia
Coral ecosystems, like these pictured off the coast of Mexico, will be hit hard as the oceans become more acidic.

Acidification of the world’s oceans could drive a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats, according to research published Nov. 21 in Nature Climate Change.

The work by biodiversity researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Washington and colleagues in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan and China, combines dozens of existing studies to paint a more nuanced picture of the impact of ocean acidification.

While most research in the field focuses on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species, the new work predicts how acidification will affect the living habitats such as corals, seagrasses and kelp forests that form the homes of other ocean species.

“This work demonstrates the value of international collaborations to address a problem that’s global in scope and crosses boundaries between distinct habitats and ecosystems,” said co-author Terrie Klinger, professor and director of the UW’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs who also co-directs the Washington Ocean Acidification Center. “We can begin to test predictions with data from different locations to better understand likely ecosystem responses to ocean acidification.”

[Read more at UW Today]