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Plastic in the Tyrrhenian Sea

The Tyrrhenian Sea is an important interlocutory link that connected the trade routes from the many coastal cities of the Western Mediterranean with the important ancient ports of the East. It has served as the staging ground for many important historical developments with profound implications for the western world throughout history.

This sea gave rise to two of the most formidable forces of the ancient world, Carthage and Rome. Two out of three Punic Wars, conducted between them for the supremacy of the Western Mediterranean, were interplayed in Sardinia, Sicily, and Magna Grecia. In the Medieval World, this sea together with Spain (Al-Andalus) served as major meeting hubs between western and eastern cultures in a thriving exchange of goods, ideas, and... warfare! During the Renaissance period, Italian merchant republics like that of Genoa, own their success primarily to the hospitable waters of the Tyrrhenian. From the 18th century onwards, as the world entered the age of nation-states, the Tyrrhenian Sea became a constitutive part of the Italian consciousness.

Today the Tyrrhenian Sea, like other parts of the Mediterranean due to the intense economic development of the region, has inevitably become a source of the share of the pollution shared by the larger body of the Mediterranean Sea. Many important busy ports with powerful economic presence in the Italian and European economy are in this stretch of water of the Mediterranean; ports like that of Napoli, Genoa, or Civitavecchia (known as the Port of Rome but located over 60 kilometers away from Rome).

What do the plastic records show?

Plastic sources and ocean circulation affecting the Tyrrhenian Sea

According to a recent study published in the Science journal titled "The Seafloor microplastic hotspots controlled by the deep-sea circulation," there seems to be a high concentration of microplastics discovered in the area of study covering the Tyrrhenian Sea. The study found that the actual quantity of waste was way larger than what was estimated to date. Concretely, the study found approximately 1.9 million fragments in a single square meter, such as those of Lazio, Sardinian, and Corsica.

The study in the source of the pollution found that roughly 80% of the pollution in the Tyrrhenian could be traced as a result of terrestrial activity, while only 20% as a result of maritime activities such as fishing and shipping.

(Source: S. Liubartseva, G. Coppini, R. Lecci, E. Clementi, Tracking plastics in the Mediterranean: 2D Lagrangian model. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 129, 151–162 (2018). doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.02.019pmid:29680533).

According to new research, the concentration of microplastics in the Tyrrhenian Sea had some of the highest values ever recorded in the deep seabed: with data indicating up to 182 fibers and 9 fragments were found per 50 g of dried sediment at the base of the Sardinian continental slope. Most of the microplastic found, contained textile products or fibers, which are not carefully filleted in wastewater treatment plants, hence easily penetrating the Mediterranean river basin of the Tyrrhenian.

This research is an important contribution in establishing a direct correlation between bottom currents and seabed microplastics. Further research is needed to predict the large-depth microplastic hotspots and making a positive step in helping us in this complex endeavor to understand the full impact of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean.

The full publication can be found at:

Science Magazine 05 Jun 2020: Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1140-1145 DOI: 10.1126/science.aba5899

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