Microplastics and Estuaries


Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5mm (nanoplastics are 50µm-5mm) including of ‘nurdles’ (preproduction plastic pellets), ‘biobeads’ (nurdle size beads used in sewage treatment), microbeads and microfibers.  The plastics come from a range of sources; cosmetics, sanitary items, clothing and road run off.

Estuaries and Microplastics

There have been a number of discrete projects looking at the microplastic content of the river and estuary;

  • Kings College have found levels of microplastics in the sediment
  • Royal Holloway and Natural History Museum have found microfibres in the stomachs of the aquatic life in the Estuary
  • Exxpedition Round Britain 2017 carried out one trawl and found over 100 microbeads in the sample, a significant order higher than they found elsewhere.
  • ZSL are currently monitoring spawning locations of fish species, the smelt, in the upper tidal river and are providing samples to Royal Holloway to  discover the content of micro plastics.


Come and join us sampling

Policy and Microplastics


There has been increasing interest in microbeads in wash on, wash off cosmetics and their subsequent discharge into the freshwater and marine environment. The Story of Stuff have been lobbying in America for some time and several states have banned their use. Beat the Microbead have been working in Europe to raise awareness through their app and subsequently have lobbied a number of individual corporations to pledge to remove it from the products.

The UK government carried out an enquiry in 2017 to understand the issues relating to the beads and their interaction (and subsequent effect upon) aquatic animals, plants and ecosystems. NGO’s such as Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, Fidra, Flora and Fauna provided evidence during the sessions. Following recommendations made by the audit committee, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs; Michael Gove announced that a ban implemented in production lines by the 9th January 2018 and on sale from the 9th July 2018.

In the 2018 samples Thames Manta volunteers found a number off coloured microbeads, but we also found a lot of fibres, and broken up particles of older looking plastics. Once Brunel University carry out full analysis we share the results here.

To find out more or get involved email us