Microplastic amounts in P.E.I. waters to be studied by U.S. researchers

Conservationists in Prince Edward Island are growing alarmed at the amount of plastics, especially microplastics, floating in the world's oceans and are taking steps to expose the problem.

Microplastics include the microbeads found in some products such as face scrubs and toothpastes

Sharon Labchuk collecting water for the microplastics study. (CBC)

Conservationists in Prince Edward Island are growing alarmed at the amount of plastics, especially microplastics, floating in the world's oceans and are taking steps to expose the problem.

Sharon Labchuk is joining citizen-scientists around the world who are collecting water samples on behalf of a conservation group in the United States.

"The purpose of the project is to gather information about levels of microplastics around the world in order to press government and industry to make changes to end pollution of oceans and rivers with microplastics," said Labchuk.

Microplastics include the microbeads found in some products such as face scrubs and toothpastes. They can also include fibres from synthetic clothing and any pulverized plastic waste.

A group called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation is now mapping the extent of microplastic pollution in the world's oceans.

The researcher heading up the project, Abby Barrows, is eager to be receiving her first samples from this region.

"I am so excited. We have have some data from the Gulf of Maine but the Canadian Maritimes are lacking," she said. "I'm always interested in islands and the currents that move around islands and how pollution may be affecting some of these more remote areas."

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association is taking action as well. It has launched an international program called Operation Clean Sweep to reduce industrial sources of plastic waste in the environment.

With some governments looking at banning microbeads in cosmetics, the association says manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to phase them out.

Labchuk says she hopes more Islanders take the plunge as citizen-scientists.

The U.S. group says microplastics have turned up in 95 per cent of the samples tested so far.

The mapping project is expected to continue for years to come.