Food is always a big part of my family’s holiday tradition, whether it’s a holiday oyster roast or fresh fish caught from Bogue Sound.

Like so many of us, I think a lot more about what I eat these days. In addition to trying to eat healthy, I worry more and more about plastic contamination in my seafood. Scientists say microplastics are a growing problem worldwide and right here in North Carolina.

Scientists tell us that microplastics are one of the most common types of debris found in animals and environmental samples. Peer reviewed studies show that synthetic microfibers – a type of plastic smaller than a millimeter in length and made up of various synthetic polymers – are found in the waters, fish and shellfish sampled just about everywhere in the world, including in our sounds and rivers in coastal North Carolina. These microfibers now make up 85 percent of the human-caused marine debris across the globe, according to a study published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology.

These tiny fibers come from many sources. The most obvious source is consumer waste such as plastic bottles and disposable cups. While consumer waste is a source, much of this microplastic comes from clothes, cosmetics, toothpaste and thousands of other products that we use every day both inside and outside of our homes and businesses. For example, Environmental Science and Technology recently reported that every time you wash a fleece jacket it sheds about two grams of microfibers – about the same weight as two paperclips.

There is little doubt that these microplastics find their way into your diet, especially when you eat seafood. Research on the health implications of eating these fibers is still ongoing. Scientists don’t yet understand the potential health consequences of eating plastic, but advise that until more is known, we should be doing everything possible to reduce the amount of plastic that we’re releasing into our coastal waterways.

Microplastics are a difficult problem both because they are invisible and because they come from so many diverse sources. In that way, this challenge reminds me of stormwater pollution, which at one point seemed to be an impossible challenge with so many pollutants coming from so many sources. But just as we have found ways to effectively address stormwater, I am confident that we will find ways to address microplastics. We just have to begin.

Here at the Coastal Federation, we are ready to dive in. Our first steps will be to encourage important research on microplastics, and to team up with experts to better understand and document the sources, concentrations and health implications of microplastics in our coastal waters and seafood. We plan to work to organize an informational forum in 2021 to connect scientific experts with local policymakers. We believe that science should inform policy on this issue, and we will advocate for environmental policies that take science into account.

This is a new focus area for the federation. To learn more about what we have planned and to support this initiative, please to go to the following website:

Todd Miller is executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

(5) comments


Well, on a positive note, there is no mercury in the microfibers.

Good luck with science and scientists, since science can change over time and scientists rarely seem to agree on anything collectively.

There might not be as many microplastic fibers in oceans as we feared - NewScientist - June 5, 2020.

Peter Ryan at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and his colleagues analysed 2000 microfibers drawn from several oceans, they found that only 8 per cent were plastic fibers like polyester or nylon. The rest were natural fibers including cotton, which made up 50 per cent of the total, and wool, which made up 12 per cent, and others like silk, hemp and linen.

Previous ocean surveys have tended to count all microfibers as plastic, based on the assumption that natural fibers like cotton and wool biodegrade too quickly to persist in marine environments.

The team used a technique called infrared spectroscopy to analyse microfibers, which were 1 millimetre long on average, in 916 seawater samples collected from the Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

The finding is surprising because almost two-thirds of textiles manufactured today are synthetic. It is possible that natural fibers degrade more slowly than previously thought, and that most of the cotton and wool fibers currently floating in oceans are pollution from previous decades when they were the most common textiles used in clothing, says Ryan.

In any case, I'll have hamburger tonight.


I’m not really making fun of trash in the ocean. It is horrible and I wish we could stop it. Kudos to you folks for trying to help.

But on a lighter side: If we could just get the millions of people that swim in the ocean every year, to do it in the nude, we could really make a big difference in the shedding of microfibers.


David Collins

And then there is pink slime . Comforting !

David Collins

Today , I stumbled upon a TV segment that was focused on building oyster reefs in order to filter and clean up our waters . Ironically , it involved placing oysters into mesh bags , plastic mesh bags . From there they would grow and burst out of these bags creating oyster reefs . What happens to these bags and the resulting bits of plastic ?


Plastic packaging secures and sanitizes the world's food. That is good. Recycled plastic clothing is a good thing. Claims about "microfibers" are not proven by any scientifically verifiable le data. Coastal Federation should get a job rather than live on grant money that you usually waste. Storm water fiasco in Cape Carteret for one. $ half mil down the drain Right??

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