Protect Our Oceans

Oregon’s Marine Reserves help scientists evaluate microplastic contamination

The Marine Reserves give scientists the ability to conduct valuable research on nearshore ecosystems and human interactions with them.


Harbor seals sunbathe on Oregon's beautiful coastline

Plastic is everywhere, and it can take hundreds of years, or more to fully decompose. Over time, larger pieces break down into smaller ones called microplastics that are pervasive in our environment. They are so widespread they’ve been found in the Arctic and even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench – the deepest place in our ocean.

As our use of plastic continues to rise, countless scientists, researchers, and concerned community members are asking “how does it affect our environment?”

Thanks in part to Oregon’s Marine Reserves, scientists from the University of Washington and Oregon State University have been able to explore the spread of microplastics in fish populations just off Oregon’s shores. In a recent paper published in PeerJ, the research team found microplastics in the tissues of over 90% of the fish sampled.

One of the takeaways from the publication was “… there are several reasons to create and maintain marine reserves and many do not include protection from pollution, as was the case in Oregon.” In this, the researchers acknowledged and highlighted the fact that protection from pollution, particularly plastic pollution, should be added to the lengthy list of reasons to establish Marine Reserves.

Since their founding just over a decade ago, the Marine Reserve Program has given scientists the ability to conduct incredible research that has led numerous publications on topics like climate change, plastic pollution, and water quality.

An upcoming “Marine Reserve Bill” in our state’s legislature seeks to better support the Program, and the incredible resulting research, by allocating additional funding and resources to it. You can read more about the bill and its progress here.


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