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Microplastic and heavy metal distributions in an Indian coral reef ecosystem


The current study focuses on the occurrence and characteristics of microplastics (MPs) and spatial distribution and pollution status of heavy metals in the water and sediments of the coral reef ecosystems associated with the Tuticorin and Vembar groups of islands in the Gulf of Mannar, southeast India. Mean abundance of MPs varies from 60 ± 54 to 126.6 ± 97 items/L in water and from 50 ± 29 to 103.8 ± 87 items/kg in sediment. Water and sediment samples from the Tuticorin islands contain higher MP concentrations than the Vembar islands. The highest MP were observed in the mainland samples, while MP distributions in the shoreward direction i.e. towards the islands closely reflect those of the mainland (p < 0.05). Polyethylene is the most common polymer, with fibers (1–3 mm) being the most abundant form in water and fragments (3–5 mm) being the most abundant in sediment. Pollution indices such as enrichment and contamination factors indicate moderate contamination of sediments by Zn, Hg, Cd, Pb and Ni. Heavy metal associated with MPs are greater than those in sediments, and this indicates that MP may be a source of metal pollution or that metals from the sediment preferentially partition to MPs. SEM analysis highlights the presence of cracks, protrusions and depositions on the surface of many MPs, indicating partial degradation. EDAX frequently showed the presence of Zn, Cd, Pb, Ni and Fe associated with MP surfaces. This study offers an insight into the level of MPs and associated elements that filter feeding corals in the region are exposed to current.


Academic article


  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 295174
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 257479
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 268404




  • Jamila Patterson
  • K. Immaculate Jeyasanta
  • Narmatha Sathish
  • J.K. Patterson Edward
  • Andy Booth


  • India
  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment



Published in

Science of the Total Environment







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