The hauling of rope on maritime vessels could result in billions of microplastic fragments entering the ocean every year, according to new research.
The study, by the University of Plymouth‘s International Marine Litter Research Unit, is the first to explore the potential for rope to become a source of microplastic pollution in the marine environment.
It compared a variety of synthetic ropes commonly used in the maritime industry—but differing in age, wear surface and material—to assess the quantity and characterizes of microplastics produced while they were in use.
This was achieved by simulating, in both laboratory and field experiments, the rope hauling activity which is typically performed on board maritime vessels such as fishing boats.
The results show that new and one-year old ropes can release around 20 microplastic fragments into the ocean for every meter hauled.
However, as the rope gets older it can release significantly more fragments—two-year-old ropes shed on average around 720 fragments per meter, while 10-year-old rope releases more than 760 fragments per meter.