Tracing macro- and micro-plastic pollution paths from the shelf to the deep Mediterranean

Dr. Michael Lazar – in collaboration with  Dr. Beverly Goodman-Tchernov and Dr.  Mor Kanari (IOLR). Additional investigators: Dr. Itzik Makovsky and Gabriel Tolulope (MSc student)

Plastic waste is one of man’s most invasive pollutants in the marine environment. Once plastic enters the marine environment, the oceanographic settings dictate its distribution over the continental shelf, slope, rise, and deep sea, while the energetic conditions at the seafloor control deposition. Recent documentation reports that Tel Aviv is the third most polluted coast with microplastic in the entire Mediterranean. However, the distribution of this pollutant and how it accumulates in the ocean across various depth ranges is unknown. Our recent studies describe a complete scheme for seafloor currents across the eastern Mediterranean shelf, slope, rise and deeper areas. We showed that the Levant Jet System dominates northward transport of particles during summer and winter along the 0-350 m depth range. Below the 350 m isobath, downslope turbidity currents dominate the transport of extra sediments towards the deeper basin. We hypothesize that the distribution of micro- and macro- plastic will follow the same paths as other sediments.

For the purpose of investigating micro-plastic distribution and their pathways in the deeper Mediterranean Sea, one short core was extracted and surface sediment samples were collected using box corer during a research cruise that occurred on the 8th of June, 2021 on board RV Bat-Galim at 1:58 (UTC). In addition, tens of gigabytes of video footage collected by the R/V Nautilus and other research vessels are being analyzed and tagged for the presence of plastics on or near the seafloor. The table below lists data on the collection:

Available Data

S/NoDATA TYPELocation/CoordinatesDepthDate/time
1Short Core Sediment

32° 32′ 0.1664″ N

34° 28′ 8.6742″ E

1170 m


@1:58 (UTC)

2Surface sediment (same point as above‘’ ‘’    ‘’ ‘’  ‘’   ‘’
3ROV VideosAcross the Eastern Mediterranean SeaShallow and deep2010 – 2017

Currently the short core (about 20cm in length) and surface sediment recovered from the box core are stored in the refrigerator at the Charney School of Marine Sciences. These await more sediment from additional cruises. Microplastic analysis from the samples has just recently begun.

For macro-plastic analysis, tens of hours of underwater video footage collected by remotely operated vehicles (ROV) are being sorted and tagging (time and location) of plastics is still ongoing.

 Pic: A – D: Initial photos of macro-plastics captured by the ROV.