The Science of the total environment : 725, 138383.
Microplastic (MP) pollution is a growing environmental problem in the global oceans. However, there is relatively little evidence of the extent of MP pollution around remote islands, such as coral reefs, in the open ocean. In this study, we conducted a large-scale investigation of MP pollution in the surface waters around the remote uninhabited coral reefs of Nansha Islands in South China Sea. Microplastics were widespread in the surface waters with an average abundance of 0.0556 ± 0.0355 items/m3, although this varied among the coral reefs. The MPs were predominantly composed of polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE), and > 70% of them were <3 mm in size. Fragments and fibers comprised the most common MP types. The similarity between macro plastic and MP compositions provided evidence for the tracing of MP sources in the study area. The main pollutants (transparent PP fibers and PE fibers) around these remote coral reefs may originate from fishing gear abrasions. The plastic waste released from nearby residential islands and high-intensity fishing activities around Nansha Islands likely represented important local sources. Overall, the abundance of MPs found in the surface waters surrounding these remote coral reefs in the South China Sea was relatively low; however, these levels of MP pollution should not be disregarded given the importance of coral reef ecosystems.