How macro is the microplastic problem? The effect of human activity on microplastic distribution and uptake by intertidal invertebrates along the South Australian coastline

Ms Janet Klein1, Professor  Karen  Burke da Silva, Dr Emily Fobert

1Flinders University, Mt Barker, Australia

The presence of microplastics in the environment is ubiquitous worldwide and is increasing. Our knowledge of their origin, concentration, behaviour and impact however has only become a focus of enquiry in recent years, predominantly in waters of the northern hemisphere. Little is known of their impact in the southern hemisphere and even less within South Australian waters. Microplastics are known to be consumed by plankton, up through the food chain to invertebrates, fish and cetaceans. They are known to take a negative toll on organism and ecosystem health both directly and indirectly through trophic-transfer, including to the human food chain.

Responding to the need to understand microplastic distribution along the South Australian coastline and its relationship to varying levels of human activity, the abundance of microplastics in beach sand, water and two common intertidal marine invertebrates, the black mussel, Mytilis edulis and the cockle, Donax deltoids, have been investigated. Whether the abundance of microplastics in the environment has an impact on the uptake by these organisms, both within the human food chain, has also been investigated. Both these questions are novel in the South Australian context and are critical to our understanding of microplastic abundance along the South Australian coastline and therefore our understanding of their potential effect on our fragile marine ecosystems and within the human food-chain.


My background is in the application of conservation through agricultural business, with an emphasis on sustainable viticulture and landscape regeneration. In 2001, I cofounded Ngeringa Vineyards, one of Australia’s first certified biodynamic vineyard and wineries and now a reknowned leader in biodynamic fine wine production and sustainable farming. I have held various industry positions representing sustainable production and am actively engaged in conservation community-engagement and hold various board positions.

Concerned with the anthropogenic impact on ecosystems, I have returned to academia to undertake this investigation. My research is supported by Flinders University’s Conservation and Symbiosis Lab and the Lirabenda Foundation.

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