Mangrove forests trap floating litter

Plastic pollution in the Red Sea has been found to become trapped in mangrove forests.
© 2019 KAUST

Mangrove forests on the coasts of Saudi Arabia act as litter traps, accumulating plastic debris from the marine environment, according to new research from KAUST. The study offers an explanation for the fate of missing marine plastic litter and highlights the threat it poses to coastal ecosystems.

“Of all the plastic discarded in the marine environment globally, only 1 percent is found floating in surface waters. That means that 99 percent of the plastic is elsewhere, but yet we don’t know where exactly,” says Cecilia Martin of KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center. In previous work, Martin and others in Carlos Duarte's research group, found relatively low levels of plastic litter in the Red Sea.  Next, to identify the location of this missing litter, the team used an unmanned aerial vehicle to scour the beaches

Now, together with Hanan Almahasheer, Martin has surveyed litter in mangrove forests along the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. They recorded the type and location of the litter, as well the weight of some items and various features of the sites, such as the distance to the nearest coastal city and to intense marine traffic, the density of the trees, and how far the litter was from the shore or the sea.

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