A preliminary assessment of the prevalence of marine micro plastics in Australian fish, crustaceans and molluscs

Project Number:



University of Adelaide

Principal Investigator:

Bronwyn M. Gillanders

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





Plastic pollution has become a significant environmental issue worldwide. World plastics production has increased from around 1.9 million tons in 1950 to more than 330 million tons in 2013 (Worm et al. 2017). Although governments are looking to reduce use of plastics, it is still appearing in marine environments. Besides plastic objects entering the ocean and being broken down into smaller pieces, waste water and runoff also carry microplastics (plastics <5mm) into the ocean. These plastics have the ability to take up toxic compounds from within seawater and are often mistaken for food by marine organisms. Constituents in the plastics ingested may then leach into tissues of organisms, and transfer through the food chain. Recently, concerns have been raised about how anthropogenic debris (including plastics) ingested by animals may impact human health. These concerns have led to governments and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace (particularly in Europe and the USA) investing in research and virtually all have concluded that further research is required. Here in Australia we know that microplastics are found in coastal seafloor sediments, and a recent study suggests plastics are found in some Australian fish from Sydney Harbour. First, we will determine whether plastics are present in Australian fish and shellfish caught and sold for human consumption across Australia, then place this information in the context of international studies identifying which species, habitats or trophic groups are most likely to contain plastics. This study will be an initial investigation to ascertain if plastics are found in seafood in Australia – depending on the outcome of this research subsequent work may be required to investigate linkages between plastics in seafood and human health, identifying the main sources/types of plastic contamination entering the marine environment, as well as considering plastic contamination in seafood risk assessments.


1. Determine how widespread the presence of plastics in Australian seafood sold for human consumption is and how this varies across the country including from metropolitan and non-metropolitan markets

2. Place the presence/absence of plastics in Australian seafood into the international context

Are microplastics found in marine fish and invertebrates?

Author(s):Bronwyn Gillanders
Date Published:September 2019