The Size Spectrum as Tool for Analyzing Marine Plastic Pollution


Martí, E.
Duarte, Carlos M.
Cózar, A.

KAUST Department
Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering (BESE) Division
Marine Science Program
Red Sea Research Center (RSRC)

Online Publication Date

Print Publication Date


Marine plastic debris spans over six orders of magnitude in lineal size, from microns to meters. The broad range of plastic sizes mainly arises from the continuous photodegradation and fragmentation affecting the plastic objects. Interestingly, this time-dependent process links, to some degree, the size to the age of the debris. The variety of plastic sizes gives the possibility to marine biota to interact and possible take up microplastics through numerous pathways. Physical processes such as sinking and wind-induced transport or the chemical adsorption of contaminants are also closely related to the size and shape of the plastic items. Likewise, available sampling techniques should be considered as partial views of the marine plastic size range. This being so and given that the size is one of the most easily measurable plastic traits, the size spectrum appears as an ideal frame to arrange, integrate, and analyze plastic data of diverse nature. In this work, we examined tens of thousands of plastic items sampled from across the world with the aim of (1) developing and standardizing the size-spectrum tool to study marine plastics, and (2) assembling a global plastic size spectrum (GPSS) database, relating individual size measurements to abundance, color (129 tons), polymer type, and category (rigid fragments, films, threads, foam, pellets, and microbeads). Using GPSS database, we show for instance the dependence of plastic composition on the item size, with high diversity of categories for items larger than 1 cm and a clear dominance (~90%) of hard fragments below, except for the size interval corresponding to microbeads (around 0.5 mm). GPSS database depicts a comprehensive size-based framework for analyzing the marine plastic pollution, enabling the comparison of size-related studies or the testing of hypothesis.

Martí E, Duarte CM, Cózar A (2017) The Size Spectrum as Tool for Analyzing Marine Plastic Pollution. Fate and Impact of Microplastics in Marine Ecosystems: 89–90. Available:

Elsevier BV

Fate and Impact of Microplastics in Marine Ecosystems

Conference/Event Name
MICRO 2016


Additional Links

Permanent link to this record