Detection and quantification of microplastic pollution in the endangered Galapagos sea lion

Microplastics were detected in 37 % of the samples from Galapagos sea lion scats.

Marine debris pollution poses a significant global threat to biodiversity, with plastics being the primary debris type found in oceans due to their low-cost production and high demand worldwide. Microplastics (MPs, <5 mm in size) are highly bioavailable to a wide range of marine taxa, including marine mammals, through direct and indirect ingestion routes (i.e., trophic transfer). Recently, MP pollution has been detected on the Galapagos Marine Reserve, so in this study we developed a baseline framework for MP pollution in the Galapagos sea lion (GSL, Zalophus wollebaeki) through scat-based analysis. We collected 180 GSL scat samples from the southeast region following strict quality assurance/quality control protocols to detect, quantify and characterize physical-chemical properties of MPs through visual observations and μFT-IR spectroscopy. We recovered 81 MPs of varying sizes and colors in 37 % of samples (n = 66/180), consisting mostly of fibers (69 %, = 0.31 ± 0.57 particles scat−1). The number of particles per gram of sample wet weight ranged from 0.02 to 0.22 ( = 0.04 ± 0.05 particles scat wet g−1). El Malecón and Punta Pitt rookeries at San Cristobal Island had the highest number of MPs ( = 0.67 ± 0.51 and 0.43 ± 0.41 particles scat−1, respectively), and blue-colored particles were the most common in all samples. We identified eleven polymers in 46 particles, consisting mostly of polypropylene-polyethylene copolymer, polypropylene, cellulose, polyethylene, and polyvinyl chloride. The textile, fishing, and packaging industries are likely significant sources of microfibers into this insular ecosystem. Our results suggest that the GSL is exposed to MPs due to anthropogenic contamination that is subsequently transferred through trophic processes. These findings provide an important baseline framework and insights for future research on MP pollution in the region, as well as for management actions that will contribute to the long-term conservation of the GSL.

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!