Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

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Microplastics – the dangers that lie beneath

University of Brighton research has discovered high levels of plastic-based microfibres in Chichester Harbour.

Dr Corina Ciocan’s study revealed there were 10,000 microfibres per litre in the top layer of the harbour’s seawater – and one study shows these same fibres are harmful to fish and this may impact on the foodchain.

She said: “The implications of the Chichester pollution are yet to be fully understood and further research is needed. However, there is evidence on the harmful effect of microplastics after ingestion.” Dr Ciocan referenced a paper published this year by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information which reported increased inflammation and oxidative stress in zebrafish exposed to both high and low concentrations of the microplastics. In addition, the polystyrene microplastics induced changes in glycolipid and energy metabolism.

Dr Ciocan said: “All those pathologies are life changing and life threatening and cannot be ignored.”

Dr Ciocan, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology in the University’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said that, worldwide, 1.5 million tons of microplastic waste are being generated per year, “which equates to one plastic bag being thrown into the ocean per person, per week”.

A microfibre is a plastic-based thread, thinner than a human hair, and some products shed microfibres more than others. Some wash out of our synthetic clothes and most come from polyester.

Dr Ciocan said: “Our research highlighted the unevenly distribution of the microplastics in water column in Chichester Harbour, with the top layer of 5-10mm of water displaying around 10K microparticles/L, whilst the rest of the water column only presented around 1000 particles/L.

“This means that different levels and probably different types of microplastics are available for organisms residing in the top layer (i.e.zooplankton, fish larvae) compared to the lower water column.” Dr Ciocan, member of the University’s Centre for Aquatic Environments, won funding for her research from Ignite, the University’s incubator initiative. Her ‘Microplastics in the Marine Environment’ project was in partnership with Chichester Harbour Conservancy.

It was one of seven Ignite partnerships and teams will be presenting their results at the University’s Edward Street building in Brighton on Wednesday this week (4 Sept). The event will be hosted by Professor Tara Dean, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise.

The Centre for Aquatic Environments is hosting a free ‘Climate, Oceans and Coastal Communities’ Conference in the University’s Huxley Building in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, on 4 October. To book, go to: and for more information visit:

For more on Dr Ciocan, visit our research pages.

Stephanie Thomson • September 3, 2019

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