Marine Debris Trends: 30 years of Change on Ventura County and Channel Island Beaches

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Western North American Naturalist

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The persistence of plastics in marine ecosystems and the physical hazards marine debris pose to wildlife have become issues of global concern. The Santa Barbara Channel is home to a number of important marine and coastal ecosystems, including the 5 islands of Channel Islands National Park, and has a variety of factors that influence marine debris accumulation. We examined the spatial variation of marine debris density and composition across the Santa Barbara Channel by quantifying marine debris on beaches of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands and the Ventura County mainland. Debris from surveyed beaches was cataloged, weighed, and measured to compare differences in island and mainland marine debris abundance, density, and composition. Derelict fishing gear accounted for a higher proportion of marine debris on island beaches compared to mainland beaches, and marine debris items on island beaches were significantly heavier compared to debris items on mainland beaches. The majority of debris on mainland beaches comprised smaller plastic fragments and single-use plastic items, and debris accumulation rates varied by season and location. Microplastics (plastic fibers and particlesmm) were found in the sand of all island and mainland beaches; however, density of microplastics did not appear to correlate with density of visually observable debris items (>25 mm) that were collected during marine debris cleanups. We compared our data from 2015 and 2016 with historical surveys performed from 1989 to 1994 to examine the temporal variation of marine debris on Santa Rosa Island. We found that there has been a significant increase in the amount of derelict fishing gear found on Santa Rosa Island over the past 27 years, which mirrors expansion of the California spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) fishery. This study highlights the importance of marine debris monitoring, as local changes in policy, fisheries, and consumer culture are reflected in accumulations of marine debris found on the California mainland and the uninhabited Channel Islands. Monitoring marine debris can provide insight into anthropogenic impacts and is a useful mechanism in monitoring the health of coastal and marine ecosystems.


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