I am currently conducting a study to determine whether or not exposure to environmentally relevant amounts of polyethylene fibers causes developmental effects in sand crabs. In the Spring of 2018, I will be working with Oregon department of Fish & Wildlife to map out the organisms affected by microplastic in the sandy beach ecosystem.
Pervasive Plastics: A New Challenge for Sand Crabs
Sandy beaches cover ~ 75% of the world’s shorelines, 60-90% of the shorelines of Southern California counties and are fundamental to most coastal economies and cultures. 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. Given the rise of plastic pollution across our seas and coasts over recent decades, there is a high likelihood plastics are entering marine food webs and impacting coastal ecosystem. We have recently demonstrated microplastics (particles or fibers<5mm) are now common across our beach sands and experimentally demonstrated E. analoga ingest microplastics under controlled laboratory condition. Most disturbingly, we have now confirmed background levels of microplastics within the bodies of adult E. analoga from beaches across southern California. We sampled sand crabs populations from San Diego to Northern San Francisco county beaches to test for the presence of microplastics. 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.