A new study by Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Israel’s Mediterranean Research Center, has revealed that Israel’s coastline contains more than two million tons of microplastic pollution.
The team collected sand samples from six beaches, including from Haifa to Ashkelon; however, the most polluted beaches were revealed to be those of Tel Aviv and Hadera.
In light of these findings, researchers warn that exposure to microplastic waste is inevitable. This is alarming as microplastics have generally been shown to be dangerous to both the environment and human health.
The study titled “Microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea: the contribution of Israel’s coastline“, was published in the magazine Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Detection of high levels of plastic pollution along the coast
During 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 a variety of analyzes were performed, including particle counting, mass measurement, image analysis, and chemical analysis to identify the polymer of which the plastic is composed, as well as the elements adsorbed on the microplastic particles. The researchers found that, among other things, the samples included microplastic pollution 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 Andrei Rubin, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University.
Rubin added: “This shows a need for better regulation of coastal litter.”
The results of the study show that the beaches of Tel Aviv and Hadera are the most polluted of the beaches tested. The level of microplastic pollution on these beaches, which are located near river mouths, is four times higher than that of Rishon Lezion and Dor Beach, which are the two beaches with the lowest concentration of microplastic particles. Even at Door Beach Nature Reserve, which is frequently cleaned, significant amounts of microplastic particles were found.
The impact of water on microplastic particles
The researchers found 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 waters of the stream carry microplastic particles with them into the sea, thereby increasing the level of beach pollution.
For example, Nahal Alexander collects leachate from untreated sewage from the West Bank, as well as waste from agricultural and industrial areas located near riverbeds. Likewise, microplastics accumulate in the Yarkon River from the industrial centers of Tel Aviv.
Rubin explained: “Our research reveals that Israel’s coastline likely contains over two tons of microplastic debris, and environmental conditions are slowly breaking this plastic down into even smaller particles.
“The smaller the plastic particles, the more difficult it is to remove them from the environment and the more dangerous they are to the environment and our health. Microplastic pollution that floats in the sea is ingested by fish and their remains eventually reach humans.
Further research is needed to analyze the health impacts of plastic pollution
Dr. Ines Zucker from the Fleischman School of Engineering and the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences concludes: “Our microplastic studies reveal the current state of microplastic pollution along Israel’s Mediterranean coast and provide knowledge about the effects of the presence of microplastics in the environment environment.
“Plastic monitoring studies in Israel are still lacking, and we need to monitor smaller plastic particles and additional environmental samples, such as seawater and streams, to better understand environmental patterns regarding the presence of microplastics.” Either way, exposure to microplastic waste seems inevitable.
“We are working to assess the environmental and health impacts that may occur given the prevalence and high concentrations of the particles we found. From a practical perspective, regulatory steps are needed to reduce Israel’s contribution to microplastic pollution in the Mediterranean.”