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In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of South Florida recently found that more than 4 billion tiny particles of plastic — known as microplastics — are floating in Tampa Bay’s waters.  

How we know this. 

The research team collected data by taking water and sediment samples throughout the bay over a 14-month period. After analyzing the samples in the lab, the team found an average of four plastic particles per gallon of water collected and more than 600 pieces of plastic per pound of sediment. 

Why this matters. 

While these plastics are less than 1/8 of an inch in size and undetectable to the human eye, they can be harmful to marine life. Microplastics can block the intestines of fish and invertebrates. And since chemicals can easily latch on to the plastic particles, they can mimic hormones that can leave marine life unable to reproduce. 

What’s next? 

Kinsley McEachern, the study’s lead author, says the numbers in this preliminary study are conservative, but that these findings provide an important baseline for future studies of this kind. This way, scientists can see if management efforts such as banning straws and plastic bags will make a difference.  

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