Marine litter and microplastic pollution on mangrove soils of the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, Colombian Caribbean
Year Published:
Study Number:

Ostin Garces-Ordonez, Victoria A. Castillo-Olaya, Andres F. Granados-Briceno, Lina M. Blandon Garcia, Luisa F. Espinosa Diaz


Marine litter pollution has become a complex global problem, because of the negative ecological and socioeconomic impacts as well as the human health risks that it represents. In Colombia, mangroves are affected by inadequate solid waste management, which results in litter accumulation. Additionally, the information related to this problem is limited [to] avoiding the development of prevention and reduction strategies. For the first time, pollution by marine litter and microplastics were evaluated in mangrove soils of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, where 540 ± 137 and 31 ± 23 items/ha of marine litter were determined in mangroves near and away from populated centers respectively. Plastics represented between 73 and 96% of litter, and microplastic quantity oscillated between 31 and 2,863 items/kg finding the highest concentrations in mangroves near to the population. This study contributes to the knowledge of the marine litter problem in mangroves of the Colombian Caribbean, becoming a help for their conservation.

Main Results and Conclusions:
  1. In addition to causing ecological harm, marine litter and microplastics also increase risks to human health.
    1. “...Marine pollution by plastics is associated with deficiencies in basic sanitation, low recycling and low environmental awareness since it is produced until it is consumed” (Li et al. 2016) (p. 455)
    2. “In Colombia, it is estimated that about 65% of the solid waste generated in the coastal populations are inadequately managed being finally disposed in open dumps or in natural water bodies…” (Garces-Ordonez et al. 2017) (p. 455)
  2. Even though mangroves in the Colombian Carribean are very important to the culture, lifestyle, and development of the country itself, the growing urbanization along the coast means that there is more pollution going directly into the mangroves and degrading them at an exponential rate.
    1. “...Columbia mangroves degradation is a big concern, the main causes are related to urban expansion, climate change, pollution, changes in the use of soil and overexploitation of the natural elements…” (Uribe and Urrego, 2009) (p. 456)
    2. “In the sampling area, a greater accumulation was observed in the first 10 m of the edge diminishing towards the interior of the forest.” (p.458)
    3. “Abundance of marine litter ranged between 15 and 728 items/ha, with weighs between 0.1 and 49.5 kg per item, finding the higher abundance in stations near[er] to the populated centers”  (p. 458)
    4. “[Microplastics] normalized concentrations were between 31 and 2863 items/kg of dry sediment, with the highest concentrations in the stations near[er] to the populated centers of Rosario Island, Tasajera, and Buenavista.” (p. 458)
    5. “These results are consistent with those reported by Riascos et al. (2019) in Buenaventura-Colombian Pacific mangroves, where solid wastes are poorly managed and accumulate in mangrove swamps nearby urban areas” (Martin et al. 2019) (p.460)
    6. ‘...marine litter and microplastics...contributed with the deterioration of the environmental quality of the lagoon complex.” (p. 461)
  3. After collecting and analyzing these data, it is evident that there are multiple steps that we need to take to create change in this region and in other urban areas with polluted mangrove ecosystems.
    1. “...we require research efforts to know the current situation and to provide scientific basis to the Government of Colombia to design management tools for the prevention, reduction, and control of these emergent pollutants. These strategies will be useful to advance in the Colombian State objective ‘To provide a healthy marine environment, in order to improve the population's [quality of] life.’” (p.461)
    2. “In this sense, we have identified three key challenges and actions to address the contamination of marine debris in Colombia, especially plastics and microplastics:
      1. Increase the knowledge about the state of pollution by plastics and microplastics in the marine and coastal environment.
      2. Improve education and awareness of the population, in order to prevent pollution
      3. Reduce the discharge of persistent solid waste from land-based and marine sources [into] Colombians seas.” (p. 461)
    3. “These challenges involve different government agencies for planning and management [for] the strategies [of] basic sanitation, generat[ing] regulations for the control and monitoring [of these strategies], and [to] develop corrective and compensatory actions” (p. 461).
Works Cited:

Garces-Ordonez, O., Castillo, V., Rueda, R., Rios, M., Bayona, M., Molina, F., Escobar, M.
 2017. Diagnostico de residuos microplasticos en las zonas marinas de Colombia. p. 239.
Li, W. C., Tse., H. F., Fok L. 2016. Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of
sources, occurrence and effects. Science of The Total Environment. 566-567: 333-349.

Martin, C., Almahasheer, H., Duarte, C. M. 2019. Mangrove forests as traps for marine litter.
 Environmental Pollution. 247: 499-508.

Riascos, J. M., Valencia N., Pena, E. J., Cantera, J. R., 2019. Inhabiting the technosphere: The
 encroachment of anthropogenic marine litter in Neotropical mangrove forests and its use
 as habitat by macrobenthic biota. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 142: 559-568

Uribe Perez, J., Urrego Giraldo, L., E., 2009. Environmental management of mangrove
 ecosystems. Gestion y Ambiente. 12: 57-71.