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The Chesapeake Bay's Plastic Problem

Do we really know how much plastic are in our waters? 

Published August 12, 2015

Microplastics and marine debris, defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly disposed into the marine environment, is one of the biggest pollution problems in the word’s waterways today. 


Photos via Flickr.

There are two main sources of microplastics: tiny plastic fragments directly or indirectly flushed into the system through human activities (think microbeads in facial scrubs) and bits of plastic resulting from the physical breakdown of larger debris.

Now, microplastics seem to be making their way into the Chesapeake Bay. According to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, there is now a significantly high concentration of microplastics along the shoreline and waters of the Chesapeake Bay.


The study, which collected water samples from four areas of the Chesapeake Bay between July and December 2011, found that all but one of the 60 samples taken, contained some from of micro plastic.

Using a manta net to capture the tiny microplastics, the study was able to capture high concentrations of microplastics and marine debris, with concentrations ranging over 3 orders of magnitude.

This data was backed up by a preliminary study conducted by Trash Free Maryland and 5 Gyres in 2014. Trash Free Maryland will be back on the water in September to help better understand the current extent of the problem in the Bay.


With more population growth around the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area, we can expect to see more microplastics in the waters around us. Microplastics and marine debris in our waters affect everything from the water we drink to the marine animals we eat.

The good news is that there are ways you can help reduce the amount of microplastics pollution in our waters!

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