Current and future effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems (the MINIMISE project)

This project brings together four UK universities and two government agencies in a bid to address the fate and behaviour of micro and nanoplastics, species-environment interactions, monitoring programmes and international activities. Our project combines world-leading expertise in marine litter and the ecological consequences of anthropogenic activities with cutting-edge technologies to deliver new knowledge of the risks posed by microplastics. Research activities in this developing field have been patchy and fragmented and by bringing them together into a cohesive project, we will deliver a step change in understanding.

The project aims to generate new knowledge on the fundamental ways in which particles interact with living tissues, distribute through trophic webs and affect ecological processes, supporting the development of safer by design plastic alternatives. We also aim to construct a geospatial risk map for the UK shelf seas to support the setting of thresholds e.g. to protect individual species, the stability and diversity of the shelf seas ecosystem and the aquatic food chain from contamination.


Overall project objectives:

  • Developing and applying enhanced methods for identifying and characterising microplastics in diverse media, including novel high throughput screening methods and synthesis of custom-designed labelled particles to enable studies of transport and uptake
  • Investigating the potential role of microplastics as vectors of additives and marine pollutants and their trophic transfer in marine food webs
  • Assessing the extent to which accumulation of microplastics of different shapes, sizes and polymers leads to biological effects at molecular cellular, physiological and organismal levels
  • Establishing the potential for microplastics to moderate benthic ecosystem functions under a range of ocean chemistry scenarios
  • Generating a unique geospatial risk map of microplastics and associated contaminants in marine environments and organisms representative of UK ecosystems
  • The role of the University of Plymouth is to use radiotracers to establish realistic exposure concentrations of micro and nano plastics, with or without co-contaminants, to fish
Partners involved are:
  • University of Plymouth
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Southampton
  • University of East Anglia
  • National Oceanography Centre
  • Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences