Thank you to our microplastics analysis volunteers! Any upcoming volunteer opportunities will be listed on this page.

Puget Soundkeeper actively documents the extent of microplastic pollution in our waterways.  Our work is a part of a growing body of scientific research on the global impact of plastic pollution.  Through our efforts, we aim to increase public education on plastic pollution and its impacts, and advocate for policy changes that protect both our marine health, local ecosystems, and communities.  

Microplastics are a global hazard to our aquatic ecosystems. Because plastic does not biodegrade in the environment, instead breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, it is a pollutant that remains in the marine environment for centuries and travels up the food chain. Plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters are known as microplastics and they have been found in water samples taken from nearly everywhere on earth including glaciers in the arctic circle and over 93% of bottled water. 

Definitions

Filament: Plastic fibers that are commonly found in synthetic clothing.

Fragments: Small pieces of larger plastics broken down over time

Pellets: Also known as nurdles, these small round plastic pieces are used in the manufacturing of larger plastic objects

Foam: Broadly refers to expanded polystyrene foam. Styrofoam is a brand of expanded polystyrene foam.

Images From the Field

Our Findings

More than 80 volunteer community scientists analyzed water and sediment samples between 2019 and 2023.

2023 Sediment Samples: 

Beach sediment was examined for microplastics at seven beaches around Puget Sound including Birch Bay State Park, H Street in Bellingham Bay, Fort Worden State Park, Golden Gardens Park, Saltwater State Park, Jack Hyde in Tacoma, and Fish Trap Loop in Olympia.

This work utilized an EPA Beach Sediment protocol and, in addition to Puget Soundkeeper, over 50 volunteers from six different groups participated in this work.*  Field samples were visually inspected using only a hand-lens and all the surveyed beaches had some microplastics. Of the 70 samples (1-meter square quadrats), we found an average of 3.2 microplastics per quadrat, the majority of which were fragments (42%), followed by foam (22%) and filaments (20%). A total of 221 microplastics were found. 

The goal was to survey the sediment in 12 quadrats but not all groups were able to do this. The site results were: Golden Gardens (75 microplastics found in 12 quadrats), H Street Beach (51 in 12 quadrats), Fort Worden State Park (28 in 12 quadrats), Saltwater State Park (25 in 12 quadrats) Jack Hyde Beach (21 in 7 quadrats), Birch Bay State Park (16 in 9 quadrats), and Fish Trap Loop (5 microplastics in 6 quadrats).  

 2019 and 2020 Water Grab-Samples

Thirty-four community science volunteers processed 69 water samples over the course of 12 microplastic analysis sessions. These samples were inspected with a microscope. Each sample contained an average of 13 microplastics. Of the 911 microplastics found, the majority were filaments (90%), followed by fragments (6.1%), and pellets (3.3%).

The sites with the most microplastics found were Carkeek Park in Seattle (51 microplastics), Burrows Island Lighthouse on Burrows Island (47), Jarrell Cove State Park on Harstine Island (32), Odlin County Park on Lopez Island (31) and Potlatch State Park near the town of Potlatch (30).  Surprisingly the sample from Log Boom Park in Kenmore was mucky and brown, but only had 4 total microplastics found, proving that looks can be deceiving! 

*Groups involved in the 2023 sediment sampling work were Community for a Healthy Bay (Tacoma), Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (Olympia), Gardens of the Salish Sea Curriculum/Pacific Shellfish Institute (Birch Bay), North Sound Baykeeper/ReSources (Bellingham), Port Townsend Marine Science Center (Olympia Peninsula), and Unleash the Brilliance (South King County).

If you have a group that is interested in participating in the Microplastic Community Science Initiative, please contact Puget Soundkeeper. We may be able to provide you with support to get started