Microplastics in intertidal water of South Australia and the mussel Mytilus spp.; the contrasting effect of population on concentration

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Microplastics, plastic particles <5 mm in size, are of global concern as human-caused pollutants in marine and fresh waters, and yet little is known of their distribution, behaviour and ecological impact in the intertidal environment of South Australia. This study confirms for the first time, the presence of microplastic in the South Australian intertidal ecosystem by quantifying the abundance of particles in intertidal water and in the keystone species, the blue mussel, Mytilus spp., an important fisheries species, at ten and six locations respectively, along the South Australian coastline. For a remote region known for its pristine environment, microplastic concentration in intertidal water was found to be low to moderate (mean = 8.21 particles l −1 ± 4.91) relative to global levels and microplastic abundance in mussels (mean = 3.58 ± 8.18 particles individual −1) was within the range also reported globally. Microplastic particles were ubiquitous across sites and bioavailable by size in water (mean = 906.36 μm) and in mussel (mean = 983.29 μm) raising concerns for the health of South Australia's unique coastal ecosystems and for the human food chain. Furthermore, a positive correlation was found between human coastal population size and microplastic concentration in intertidal water, irrespective of influences from industry - tourism, fishing and shipping ports. FTIR analysis determined plastic type to include polyamide (PA), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), acrylic resin, polyethyleneterephthalate (PET) and cellulose, suggesting synthetic and semi-synthetic particles from single-use, short-life cycle products, fabrics, ropes and cordage. Our findings shed light on the urgent need to establish the local sources of microplastic pollution in order to assist the community, industry and government to reduce the impact of microplastic on the fragile marine systems within South Australian intertidal waters and on the organisms associated with the human food chain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154875
Number of pages14
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2022


  • Microplastic
  • South Australia
  • Intertidal water
  • Population
  • Blue mussel
  • Single-use plastics


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