Capstone project

Pervasive Plastics: A New Challenge for crabs and Our Sandy Beach Ecosystem

Sandy beaches cover approximately 60-90% of the shorelines of Southern California counties and are fundamental to most coastal economies and cultures (Smith et. al 1976). The sand crab (Emerita analoga) is found intertidally upon almost every Californian sandy beach, and so an excellent potential sentinel of ecosystem change across shorelines in a wide geographic area. We demonstrated microplastics (particles or fibers<5mm) are now common across our beach sands and experimentally demonstrated E. analoga ingest microplastics under controlled laboratory condition. Disturbingly, we have now confirmed background levels of microplastics within the bodies of adult E. analoga from beaches across California (San Diego to northern San Francisco). The ubiquity of this contamination makes ascertaining the effects upon sand crabs and their associated food webs difficult as there appears to be no areas free from plastic exposure and contamination. Given the rise of plastic pollution across our seas and coasts over recent decades (Veas et. al 2013), there is a high likelihood plastics are entering marine food webs and impacting coastal ecosystem.

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