Microplastics discovered in remote Scottish waters, Greenpeace warns

Microplastics have been found in some of Scotland's most remote waters, threatening seabirds and fish stocks.

Greenpeace said the problem is not as bad as some other regions of the world but criticised a lack of planning to address the issue.

Scientists collected samples in Scottish coastal waters last year, with a focus on the Hebrides in areas known to be important feeding grounds for basking sharks and seabirds such as gannets, puffins, razorbills and shearwaters.

A total of 49 samples were taken from waters around islands including Rum, Mull and Tiree as well as Loch Alsh, Loch Linnie, Loch Ness and the Firth of Forth.

They were then analysed at Greenpeace's laboratory in the University of Exeter, where it was found 31 samples contained microplastics.

Greenpeace said the Beluga ship expedition gathered more data on plastic pollution in Scottish waters than any previously published survey.

Greenpeace scientists survey plastic at the Shiant Islands (Will Rose/Greenpeace/PA)
Greenpeace scientists survey plastic at the Shiant Isles (Will Rose/Greenpeace/PA)

Microplastics can carry a range of chemical additives and contaminants because of their synthetic nature and ability to absorb chemicals from seawater on to their surfaces.

Chemicals found in the samples include those used as additives in plastics like phthalate esters, heavy metals and flame retardants - some of which have been classified as "toxic to reproduction" or are suspected to have hormone disrupting properties.

The charity's oceans campaigner Tisha Brown said: "Although microplastics were found in two out of three samples, this isn't all bad news.

"The concentrations are lower than in many other regions of the world's oceans and hopefully Scottish marine life is at a proportionately lower risk than marine life in those areas.

"However, the results varied significantly in unpredictable ways and so we would need longer-term testing to be confident of average concentrations.

"The key finding here is that microplastics are present in some of Scotland's most remote and unspoilt waters.

"Threatened seabirds and other wildlife are already exposed to them, along with the fish stocks we eat, and there is currently no coherent process or even plan to stop this problem from getting worse."

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