Blue Hill Group Studying Plastic in Maine Sea 

Now that the weather is changing, many of us are pulling out our polar fleece.

But each time you throw those vests and jackets in the wash, you could be contaminating our ocean.

Joy Hollowell tells us about a new study being done in Blue Hill about microplastic pollution.


“We’re thinking probably around 85% of all ocean surface water contains plastic. And that’s a staggering number.”

Abby Barrows is the coastal monitoring and outreach coordinator at Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill.

“So we thought we should do a study locally and see what sort of numbers we’re getting and compare it on a more global scale,” explains Barrows.

In May, members of MERI began collecting water samples. They expected to find some plastic.

“We are finding on average here in water from Blue Hill and Penobscot Bay, 27 pieces of plastic per liter of water,” says Barrows. “There hasn’t been a plastic free sample yet.”

The pieces are tiny, less than half the width of your pinky fingernail. But microplastics, as they’re called, still pack a punch, particularly when it comes to marine life.

“They are made with highly toxic materials, often plasticizers,” says Barrows. “They also absorb chemicals in the marine environment. So these small pieces of plastic end up being very toxic little sponges that are ingested by the marine animals.”

A big culprit is wastewater treatment facilities which just don’t have the capability to filter out these microscopic pieces, according to Barrows.

“So ever time you wash your polar fleece jacket, that shreds up to 2,000 pieces of plastic and that makes its way into the ocean,” she explains.

Microbeads found in facial cleaners and toothpaste are also to blame.

Meri is now working with Maine Maritime Academy to scan the microplastics and better pinpoint where they’re coming from.

“So many people here rely on our waters,” says Barrows. “We think of the ocean as an amazing resource that is very clean and pristine and there are some larger issues there that must be addressed, otherwise they will come knocking on our door very soon.”


MERI is also analyzing water samples collected by volunteers around the globe. Barrows says so far, the results show similar numbers between Maine’s sea water and other oceans.

MERI will collect samples through the winter, to see if there is a difference in seasons. They will publish a report on their data in December.

For more information, you can log onto their website.