Tracking Microplastics in the Choptank River Watershed
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is examining the role marshes and underwater plant life, or vegetation, have in determining what happens to plastic debris as it moves down the Choptank River.
Type of Project: Research
Project Dates: January 2022 - December 2023
Who is involved?
Researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, with support from a NOAA Marine Debris Program research grant, are conducting field and laboratory studies to investigate where plastic debris ends up as it travels through a river system and encounters underwater vegetation. The researchers will measure how long it takes for plastic caught in marshes and other underwater vegetation to break down. They will also evaluate and predict how marine debris moves in the Choptank River and where it ends up under various model scenarios. The project will also form an advisory group that will provide input on project design, model scenarios, and sharing research results.
What is the project and why is it important?
Rivers are known to transport marine debris to coastal waters, yet we do not have good estimates of the amount of debris entering rivers and exiting to the ocean. As debris travels through a river system, there are many factors that may trap it, including debris snagging on vegetation, dense debris sinking to the river bottom, and underwater vegetation that may change the flow of water, allowing pieces of debris to sink or settle.
Researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, are examining how marshes and underwater vegetation influence the movement and settling of plastic debris as it is transported down the Choptank River to the Chesapeake Bay. By measuring the amount of microplastics in the waters and sediments in these environments and comparing the amount of microplastics to open water areas without vegetation across seasons, the researchers will be able to estimate how much plastic debris enters and stays in the Choptank River. Additionally, they will place plastic swatches in these habitats to evaluate how plastic debris degrades, or breaks down, in the environment over time and becomes a potential delayed source of microplastics to the river system. Data from field studies will be used to build models to evaluate and predict how plastic debris moves in the Choptank River and where it ends up under various model scenarios.
For more information about this project, visit the Marine Debris Program Clearinghouse.