Microplastic adherence to common species of macroalgae found throughout Scottish coastal zones

  • Nicol MacCallum Ferguson

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Research (awarded by UHI)


Microplastics are a ubiquitous, persistent, and concerning waste material, produced globally to fulfil many social, economic, and industrial needs. Over the last forty years studies have assessed their abundance within the environment and their growing effects on marine life. However, until recently, relatively little emphasis has been given to studies assessing their effects on primary producing marine species such as macroalgae, better known as “Seaweeds”. The present study aimed to rectify this by assessing the potential microplastic contamination (i.e., the introduction of a substance as a pollutant) acting on common species of macroalgae found throughout the Scottish coastal zone. A baseline time series data set was created to assess the microplastics found within water samples in addition to sampled Fucus vesiculosus fronds. Additionally, a positive control experiment was created to assess if microplastics adhere to samples of F. vesiculosus. Results found microplastics were present in all collected samples, however no discernible correlation could be made regarding the time series data. Furthermore, it was concluded that microplastics do adhere to F. vesiculosus. Following the initial controls, experiments were created to evaluate the potential for multiple macroalgae species to act as contamination hosts, in addition to testing if damage inflicted upon the algae effected the adherence. It was found that all species selected had proven potential to act as microplastic contamination hosts. Additionally, if algae sustained damage, the contamination could be up to nineteen times higher. The final set of experiments tested the potential of multiple polymer types to act as contaminants, with results concluding all selected polymer types yielded contamination. The study herein therefore concluded that microplastic contamination within the marine environment is a real threat to valuable primary producing species and recommendations to further research should be made as suggested within the concluding statement.
Date of Award9 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorMichele Stanley (Supervisor) & Bhavani Narayanaswamy (Supervisor)

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