Microplastics infecting Southwest Florida

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

The Southwest Florida lifestyle is the reason why many people move here and stay.

“Water quality is the most important thing. The whole thing for Southwest Florida Water quality is lifestyle is based out around here,” said Bern Southward.

Southward knows it. Reporter Liz Biro met him as he took his daily stroll around Riverside Park.

“As for the water quality right now, it looks pretty good. There’s no algae or anything in it,” said Southward.

Unfortunately, algae isn’t the only concern. Under the surface, scientists worry about another pollutant: Microplastics.

“Once they are in the environment, taking them out is almost impossible,” said Associate Professor in the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University, Puspa Adhikari.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that plastic in the water isn’t healthy.

Microplastics are exactly what they sound like. They are small, microscopic pieces of plastic.

Adhikari said microplastics are smaller than size five millimeters in diameter, approximately the thickness of a pencil.

They can start as large pieces of plastic and break down over time, like plastic bags or empty soda bottles. Other microplastics are manufactured that way, like exfoliating beads found in facewash.

“There are so many microplastics everywhere in water and soil and atmosphere everywhere,” said Adhikari.

Microplastics have managed to move up the food chain, ending up in fish. More alarming, they can also be found in our bodies. Microplastics have been found in our blood, urine, and even breast milk.

WINK News collected water samples from Charlotte Harbor, Fort Myers Beach, the Caloosahatchee and Cocohatchee River Park in Collier.

Researcher Sofia Cuellersola runs the sample through a vacuum pump to filter out the water and grab any plastic.

Fellow researcher Sofie Levitt places that filter under the microscope. And to no one in this lab’s surprise, a small piece of plastic.

“This is the Fort Myers Beach sample; we’re looking at a bead here of some kind.” one student said.

Levitt guesses it could be a face wash exfoliating bead.

Another sample comes from Collier’s Cocohatchee River Park, where Ellen and Marvin Pinchuck enjoy watching the boats.

“It doesn’t shock me because nobody really seems to care enough here,” said Pinchuck. “Recycling policies here are far not even up to par in any way.”

In every sample collected and tested by WINK, microplastics were found.

It will be some time before we know the full, long-term effects. Until then, Adhikari said consumers should try reducing their plastic footprint.

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