Microplastics — plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter — are present in all waters surrounding Taiwan, a study released on Thursday by the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation found.
The foundation said that in May of last year launched it a week-long study of microplastics in surface waters, collecting samples at 51 locations near Taiwan proper, Penghu County, Siaoliouciou Island (小琉球), Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) and other outlying islands.
Analyses showed that there were microplastics at all 51 locations, foundation researcher Wen Pei-chen (溫珮珍) said in Taipei.
The concentration of microplastics ranged from 0.016 to 64.12 particles per cubic meter of ocean water, which in an Olympic-sized swimming pool would be the equivalent of finding between 30 and 100,000 plastic particles, she said.
The estuary of Chiayi County’s Bajhang Creek (八掌溪) had the highest concentration of microplastics (64.12 particles per cubic meter) out of the samples collected, followed by the estuary of Kaohsiung’s Houjing River (後勁溪) (4.9 particles per cubic meter) and waters near Keelung’s Heping Island (和平島, 3.1 particles per cubic meter), Wen said.
Hard or rigid plastics made up the highest proportion of microplastics found, indicating that plastics used in everyday life still account for the majority of microplastics pollution, she said.
The Bajhang Creek estuary had the most spherical microplastics, most of which originated from raw materials used in plastic processing, Wen said, adding that it might be related to the activities of factories upstream or in neighboring cities and counties.
In waters off southwestern Taiwan, where human activity is the most intense, the concentration of microplastics was also relatively high, the foundation said.
Soft or flexible plastics made up 9.7 percent of the microplastics detected at eight southwestern sampling locations, while foam microplastics made up 6.9 percent, it added.
The study only examined the current situation, foundation chief executive Chang Hui-chun (張卉君) said.
The government should allocate resources for a long-term study of the microplastics problem in waters off Taiwan and propose policies to counter the problem, she added.
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