Monitoring San Francisco Bay for microplastics - photo by Plus M Productions

Plastic pollution is gaining global recognition as a threat to the resilience and productivity of ocean ecosystems. However, we are only just beginning to understand the scope and impacts of microplastic particles (less than 5 mm) on coastal and ocean resources, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. A preliminary study of nine water sites in San Francisco Bay, published in 2016, showed greater levels of microplastics than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay. Based on these findings, the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) organized a workshop with stakeholders, scientific experts, and regulatory staff to identify major data gaps and management questions. SFEI developed a Microplastic Strategy to outline the essential scientific studies needed to inform management actions.

With a generous grant of $880,250 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, $75,000 from the Bay's Regional Monitoring Program, and smaller amounts from Patagonia and East Bay Municipal Utility District, scientists from SFEI and The 5 Gyres Institute have embarked on a two-year study to address the highest priority elements identified in the Strategy.

This project includes multiple scientific components to develop improved knowledge of microplastic in the Bay Area environment and prioritize practical steps to reduce pollution:  

  • Baseline microplastic monitoring in San Francisco Bay surface water, sediment, and fish 
  • Monitoring in National Marine Sanctuary surface waters outside of the Golden Gate
  • Characterization of microplastics in treated wastewater and stormwater flowing into the Bay
  • Rigorous method development and standardization 
  • Development of modeling tools to link Bay contamination to that of adjacent Sanctuaries
  • Data-driven policy options for the Bay Area developed with leading national and regional experts 
  • Sharing findings with regional stakeholders and the public  

The scientific information, tools, and policy recommendations developed via the San Francisco Bay microplastic project are intended to catalyze similar efforts to understand and reduce plastic pollution around the globe. 

Track the latest developments on Instagram and Twitter: #SFBayMicroplastics

Carolynn Box
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Clean Water Program
Location Information