Defense Date

5-9-2022

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science

Degree Name

Marine Science

First Advisor

Dr. Abigail Renegar

Second Advisor

Dr. Patrick Quinn

Third Advisor

Dr. Bernhard Riegl

Fourth Advisor

Jessica Gonzalez

Abstract

The widespread use of plastics has led to a surplus of plastic waste in landfills and the ocean. The degradation of these plastics produces microplastics, which are detrimental to the environment. Microplastics can be introduced into the ocean in several ways, including runoff and sewage outfalls; both pathways can concentrate microplastics and promote adsorption of environmental contaminants to the plastic's surface. South Florida has six sewage outfalls, and nine inlets, whose proximity to the Florida Reef Tract increases the potential exposure of microplastics to sensitive environments, such as the coral reef. A quantitative assessment of microplastics introduced into the ocean via sewage outfalls and inlets is an essential first step toward understanding potential environmental impacts. This study evaluated microplastics' concentration, composition, and spatial and temporal distribution in southeast Florida coastal waters. Plastics were quantified in water samples from eight sites. Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectroscopy was used to identify 5.7% of the particles sampled, including the plastic polymer composition and possible source material. There were no significant differences between sampling locations, categories, or sites; however, a significant spatial influence was found. Of the particles identified, 57.63% were plastics. This study revealed that the coastal waters of Broward County have notable amounts of microplastics, and the type of polymers present suggests that sewage effluent is a major source of microplastics. The results of this study have provided new background information to guide further research and support future management strategies.

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