Marine plastic debris - exploring sources & transport in coastal British Columbia
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Plastic debris, which enters the marine environment through a variety of anthropogenic sources or means and can cause harm to marine species and ecosystems, is an increasingly urgent environmental problem. This research explored the marine plastic debris problem in coastal British Columbia (BC) through the following research question: “What are the source locations and ages of marine plastic debris, specifically plastic bottles, accumulating on Triangle Island and the central BC coast, and what might be their oceanic pathways to these points of accumulation?” Sampling sites range from south to north coast of BC. I found bottles from 27 countries (156 brands), from <1-17 years old. I compared inner and outer coast locations and found there to be a significant difference (χ2 (7, N = 2798) = 20.96, p = 0.004) in source countries of bottles. I used an open-source ocean circulation model to predict travel times from source locations via ocean current patterns. For bottles where I could identify both age and source country, 53% did not comply with the ocean circulation model, indicating arrival through expedited means such as disposal overboard ships. When comparing proportion of bottles that do not comply with ocean circulation model oceanic travel times between sampling locations, I found that sampling location was not a significant influencing factor (H(5) = 1.53, p = 0.91). There was no significant difference in age distributions between domestic and international bottles (Mann-Whitney U = 4334.5, N = 503, p = 0.76). Guided by these findings, I conducted a review of existing international plastic mitigation measures, focusing on where BC stands in a global context; priorities should be plastic end-of-life disposal accountability, strengthening domestic recycling regulations and international collaboration, addressing knowledge and inequality gaps in waste management research, and minimizing, where possible, virgin plastics creation.