Tiny plastics making huge impacts in St. Augustine

St. Augustine Beaches are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Many local businesses get their fish from the Atlantic Ocean on St. Augustine Beach and customers enjoy the seafood. Contamination of the water with microplastics could affect business for the local restaurants going forward.

By Dustin Fletcher | gargoyle@flagler.edu

What’s less than five millimeters in length and is in every body of water on the planet?  

Microplastics are being researched at Flagler College by Coastal Environmental Science students and professors and could possibly affect the city in many ways in the not so distant future. 

Many people are aware of the plastic problem in our planet’s oceans. Campaigns showing pictures of turtles with straws stuck in their nose or soda rings stuck around their necks have been seen by many through awareness campaigns. 

However, much fewer people are aware of the issue of microplastics. 

Microplastics are defined as, “plastic debris less than five millimeters in length” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

These small plastics come from many sources, according to Flagler College student, Racheal Cecil. 

“Microplastics come from everywhere,” Cecil said. “It can be from large plastic debris that are broken down by the sun to a microplastic, or it can also be from your clothes. Your clothes feel soft because of plastic fibers in them. In dryers, there’s a lint catcher, but there is not in a washing machine. When you wash your clothes, the plastics leave with the waste water. At the water treatment plant large debris are caught, but the filters aren’t small enough to catch the microplastics, so they stay in our water sources even after treatment.”

She also added that clothing company Patagonia sells a bag to wash clothes in that catches these plastics and keeps them out of water, but not many other companies have followed. 

With the plastics in the water source, it also gets into a large food source. Cecil dissects crabs, fish, and other varieties of ocean life and counts the amounts of microplastic pieces she finds in marine life. 

“I think I found 53 just on one crab once. The amount of microplastics that I find on just the marina are crazy,” Cecil said.  

Flagler College professor Dr. Ed McGinley agreed with this, and said that there is no way to fully stop this pollution of our water, but only to decelerate it. 

“We can’t really stop the small plastics from getting into our water sources. The filters would be too small and would get clogged too often. However, to decelerate the process, people could use the bags from companies like Patagonia and just reduce the single use plastic consumption. Just making people aware of a short list of things they can do could reduce the consumption of single use plastics a lot. This would do wonders to slow the process of the plastic getting into our water source,” McGinley said.  

Long time St. Augustine resident and Flagler College Graduate Pete Kryzwick, 53, said he has seen the amount of plastic on the beaches grow exponentially since his graduation from Flagler College in 1987.  

“I definitely would say the plastic and trash on the beaches has increased exponentially since I’ve been here. With the growth of tourism here and the lack of growth in solutions to support all this, the beaches have definitely gotten dirtier since I got here in the 80’s. Almost every time that I’m at Vilano Beach, the trash cans are overflowing and there’s a lot of trash on the ground. It’s crazy to think that not only is there trash that we can see in the water and on the ground, but plastics that we also cannot see in the water,” Kryzwick said. 

Kryzwick has also said he can see this issue affecting the local economy as so many of the local businesses are seafood restaurants.  

“Since fish and other marine life are eating plastic, we also are,” Kryzwick said. “I certainly don’t know of any health effects, but it can’t be great for you. I think once people start to hear more about this, it will hurt our local seafood economy. We go to Kyle’s Fish and have been for some number of years, but if I found plastic in my fish, I don’t think we’d go back, and if we wouldn’t go back after all these years, I certainly think a lot of people wouldn’t.”    

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