Thames Manta Project

 Sampling for microplastics on the Thames and Medway.


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, clothing and road run off.


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.

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.

The Project

There has been no strategic or temporal study of microbeads on the Thames or Medway Estuaries. However with the ban coming in 2018 presents a key point to start to monitor the improvement such interventions make on the environment.

The manta deployed


See How we have been getting on. Medway film. Thames Film 


2018 dates

Estuary Day Month Pickup  Status
Thames 18 August 0700 Richmond
Thames 19 August 0700 Gravesend
Medway 26 August 1100 Chatham
Medway 6 October 0900 Chatham Spaces
Medway 7 October 1000 Chatham Spaces
Thames 20 October 1200 Richmond booked
Thames 21 October 0800 Gravesend Spaces
Thames 3 November 0900 Wapping Cancelled
Thames 4 November 0900 Gravesend Cancelled – New Dates shortly
Medway 24 November 1200 Chatham Spaces
Medway 25 November 1300 Chatham Spaces
Medway 8 December 1200 Chatham Spaces
Medway 9 December 1300 Chatham Spaces
Thames 15 December 0800 Richmond Spaces
Thames 16 December 0800 Gravesend Spaces

Specific sites will be given to confirmed attendees, timings are for planning purposes. Weather may cause surveying to be cancelled.

Although we have managed to take a number of samples in both the Thames and Medway this year, we have had to make a difficult decision. In order to conserve the wider possibility of sampling early next year, due funding restrictions and unexpected costly maintenance to the vessel we are postponing all 2018 sampling for microplastics. 

Help us to guarantee sampling in 2019 by promoting our twitter and Facebook pages and any small contributions would be really welcome

To contribute to the research or volunteer to help sample please contact us on or fill in our volunteer form


Manta Trawling


Funding campaign for the next years sampling has been launched.


The project is grateful for the following supporters;

Panthalassa Ltd, owns the vessel ‘Snapper’ and commissioned the Manta Trawl. They have provide the licenced vessel and approvals from the PLA and Peel Ports to undertake this work in the Thames and Medway, respectively.

Jetstream Tours have kindly put up the money for the adaptions in order to make the vessel ‘Snapper’ ready for the trawl.

Medway Marine have done all the metalwork both on the vessel ‘Snapper’ and created the trawl frame for the project.