In some parts of the River Thames, 94,000 microplastic particles flow through the water every second.
That’s according to Katharine Rowley, postgraduate student at Royal Holloway, who with assistance from the Natural History Museum and the Zoological Society of London found high levels of microplastics are impacting the river, seriously affecting its inhabitants, habitats, water column and shoreline.
Her study found 93.5% of microplastics in the water column were most likely formed from larger plastic items such as food packaging breaking down and highlights the “grave need for the reduction of plastic input into the freshwater environment”.
Ms Rowley said: “Our study provides baseline data for microplastic contamination in the River Thames water column. Globally, in comparison to published estimates of microplastic contamination in marine and freshwater environments, the River Thames contains very high levels of this pollutant, potentially a major input to the North Sea.
“With the potential threats of plastic pollution to both human and ecosystem health, it is of great importance that the input of plastic into marine and freshwater environments is reduced.”
Separate studies by Postgraduate students Alex McGoran and Katherine McCoy, all from the Department of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, highlight further damage – the former found the native shore crab and the invasive Chinese mitten crab that live in the river are ingesting microplastics, which could reduce the urge to feed and leave the animals with less energy for growth and reproduction.
Another research, Katherine McCoy, studied “flushable” and “non-flushable” wet wipes as a source of plastic pollution in the River Thames and investigated the environmental impacts they have on the invasive Asian clam.
She found wet wipes found in sewage were building up in the river upstream from Hammersmith Bridge, creating large ‘wet wipe reef’s where crab populations could not survive.
How clean is the River Thames? Well, it depends who you ask – we set out along its banks and spoke to sailors, rowers and fisherman who spend large amounts of their time around (and sometimes even in!) the water.