EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

All that glitters is not plastic: the case of open-ocean fibres

Giuseppe Suaria1, Aikaterini Achtypi1, Vonica Perold2, Stefano Aliani1, Andrea Pierucci3, Jasmine Lee4, and Peter Ryan2
Giuseppe Suaria et al.
  • 1Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto di Scienze Marine, Italy (
  • 2FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa
  • 3Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, Universita’ di Cagliari, 09126, Italy
  • 4School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia

Textile fibres are ubiquitous contaminants of emerging concern. Traditionally ascribed to the ’microplastics’ family, their widespread occurrence in the natural environment is commonly reported in plastic pollution studies, with the misleading belief that they largely derive from wear and tear of synthetic fabrics. Their synthetic nature has been largely used to motivate their persistence in the environment, thus explaining their presence in virtually all compartments of the planet, including sea-ice, deep-seas, soils, atmospheric fall-out, foods and drinks. As of today however, an extensive characterization of their polymeric composition has never been performed, even though the evidence that most of these fibres are not synthetic, is slowly emerging. By compiling a dataset of more than 916 seawater samples collected in six different ocean basins, we confirm that microfibres are ubiquitous in the world seas, but mainly composed of natural polymers. The chemical characterization of almost 2000 fibres through µFTIR techniques revealed that in striking contrast to global production patterns, only 8.2% of marine fibres are actually synthetic, with the rest being predominantly of animal (12.3%) or vegetal origin (79.5%). These results demonstrate the widespread occurrence of cellulosic fibres in the marine environment, emphasizing the need for full chemical identification of these particles, before classifying them as microplastics. On the basis of our findings it appears critical to assess origins, impacts and degradation times of cellulosic fibers in the marine environment, as well as to assess the wider implications of a global overestimation of microplastic loads in natural ecosystems.

How to cite: Suaria, G., Achtypi, A., Perold, V., Aliani, S., Pierucci, A., Lee, J., and Ryan, P.: All that glitters is not plastic: the case of open-ocean fibres , EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-3715,, 2020


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  • CC1: Answer to your quetion obout my presentation, Javier Soto-Navarro, 06 May 2020

    Hi Giusepper,

    I'm a slow typer and didn't have time to answer your question before, I'll answer it here.

    can you tell us more about agreement with other models and previous studies? Do your results generally agree or disagree?

    There is a slide in the presentation summarizing the intercomparison with previous works. There are only four previous modeling studies of ML dispersion for the whole Mediterranean basin. Three of them start from a uniform ML distribution. In order to compere with them we performed a simulation starting also from a uniform distribution. We found agreement to some extend with the works of Mansui et al (2015) and Zambianchi et al. (2017). Not very good agreement was found with Macias et al. (2019). 

    The study of Libartseva et al. (2018) starts from a similar ML initial distribution from realistic sources. The agreement with their result and our simulation of floating particles is quite good in the WMed, while more discrepancies are found in the EMed, in particular in the Aegean Sea. 

    In the discussion section of our paper you can find a more detailed explanation of what we think are the reasons of these agreements/discrepancies with the previous studies.

    Thank you for your interest.


  • AC1: Comment on EGU2020-3715, Giuseppe Suaria, 06 May 2020

    Thank you Javier, and congrats again for your very interesting work! 
    All the best, 

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