An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Ghost traps and a river of plastic: How our trash is slowly killing Tampa Bay

TAMPA – We all see plastic bags, water bottles and trash littering our roads and waterways. But, according to researchers, what we see barely scratches the surface of what's lurking in the deep.

A recent study by researcher Charlotte Haberstroh, who's working on her graduate thesis and dissertations at the University of South Florida, found billions of pieces of plastic entering urban rivers.

"3.33 billion plastic pieces per year are moving out of the Hillsborough River into the bay," Haberstroh said. "Two tons is the plastic that we estimate to be moving through the river per year. I mean, it's huge; honestly, when I first started this, I was slightly worried. What if I did all this research and then I don't actually find plastic in the river?"

Her doubts quickly faded, and Haberstroh knew she was onto something. For 18 months, she canoed the river with all of her hi-tech equipment capturing macro and microplastics. During one collection event, she said a debris mat floated toward her.

"Within five minutes, like all our nets just got full. We had to fill the samples in buckets. It was much more than our normal sample containers," Haberstroh said. "There was plastic everywhere. And then after that, it was looking like this again, like clean and nice, nothing going on. And that day, we had over 4,000 plastic particles collected in that five minutes."

Haberstroh said her research had taken her to Cambodia to sample the Mekong River. The floating mat of plastic was more in Tampa.