A new study by Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with the Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel, has revealed that the Israeli shoreline houses more than two million tonnes of microplastic contamination.
The team collected sand samples from six beaches, including Haifa to Ashkelon; however, it was revealed that the most polluted beaches were those of Tel Aviv and Hadera.
In light of these findings, the researchers warn exposure to microplastic waste is unavoidable. This is worrying, as microplastics are generally proven as dangerous to both the environment and human health.
The study, titled ‘Mediterranean microplastic contamination: Israel’s coastline contributions,’ was published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Discovering high levels of plastic pollution along the coastline
Over the course of 2021, the researchers collected samples from six areas along the coast, which were: Ashkelon, Rishon LeZion, Tel Aviv, Hadera, Dor Beach, and Haifa.
The samples were then taken to the laboratory where various analyses were performed, including particle count, mass measurements, image analysis, and chemical analysis to identify the polymer the plastic was made up of, as well as the elements adsorbed onto the microplastic particles. The researchers discovered that, amongst other things, the samples included microplastic contamination originating from food packaging, single-use plastic products, and fishing nets.
“It was interesting to see that plastics of terrestrial origin, such as food packaging, were more dominant than plastics of marine origin, such as fishing nets,” said Andrey Rubin, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University.
Rubin added: “This indicates a need for better regulation of coastal waste.”
The research findings show that the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera were the most polluted of the beaches tested. The level of microplastic contamination on these beaches, which are located near stream estuaries, was four times higher than that of Rishon Lezion and Dor Beach, which were the two beaches with the lowest concentration of microplastic particles. Even in the Dor Beach nature reserve, which is cleaned frequently, a considerable amount of microplastic particles were found.
The impact of water on microplastic particles
The researchers determined that the high level of pollution on the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera – and the fact that they are in close proximity to streams – indicates that the stream’s waters carry microplastic particles with them into the sea, thereby intensifying the level of contamination on the beach.
For example, Nahal Alexander collects leachate from untreated sewage from the West Bank, as well as waste from agricultural and industrial areas located near the riverbeds. Similarly, microplastics accumulate at the Yarkon River from the industrial centres in Tel Aviv.
Rubin explained: “Our research reveals that the Israeli coastline likely contains over two tonnes of microplastic waste, and environmental conditions slowly break this plastic down into even smaller particles.
“The smaller the plastic particles, the harder it is to remove them from the environment, and the more dangerous they are to the environment and to our health. The microplastic contamination that drifts into the sea are swallowed by fish, and their remains eventually reach humans.”
Further research is needed to analyse the health impacts of plastic pollution
Dr Ines Zucker of the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, concluded: “Our microplastic studies reveal the current state of microplastic pollution along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, and provide knowledge on the effects of the presence of microplastics in the environment.
“Plastic monitoring research in Israel is still lacking, and we must monitor the smaller plastic particles and additional environmental samples, such as seawater and streams, in order to better understand environmental patterns with regard to the presence of microplastics. This way or another, it would appear that exposure to microplastic waste is inevitable.
“We are working on assessing the environmental and health impacts that may arise, given the prevalence and high concentrations of the particles that we found. In a practical perspective, regulatory steps are required in order to reduce Israel’s contribution to microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean.”