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Microplastics in the Delaware Bay rival global hotspots, says UD researcher

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

Scientists say microplastics are everywhere—including in Delaware waterways. 

A group of University of Delaware researchers have been studying microplastics in Delaware for years. They’ve found them in the Delaware Bay, the Delaware River, smaller waterways, and most recently, in the Indian River and Rehoboth bays. 

These tiny fibers and fragments of plastic can harm aquatic animals and birds. 

Jonathan Cohen, an associate professor in UD’s School of Marine Science and Policy, told the Center for the Inland Bays’ Scientific & Technical Advisory Committee Friday that his team found more microparticles in the Indian River and Rehoboth Bays than in the Delaware Bay—but less than in Delaware’s tidal creeks. 

“One thing we continuously see is that we have more plastic upstream,” he said. “This is perhaps not terribly surprising. There are higher population densities upstream which could produce more plastic waste.”

The concentration of microplastics in the bay is not uniform—in part because the tides and currents push the contaminants into hotspots. 

Cohen says the overall concentration of microplastics in the bay is high, even compared to other places around the world. 

“Not necessarily these mounds of garbage trash, but if you look in areas around the globe where we see hotspots of microplastics, those concentrations are still lower than what we see in the bay, on average.”

Cohen’s team plans to keep studying local hotspots and the impact of microplastics on wildlife like blue crabs.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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