Ecological Aspects of Microplastics | JPI OCEANS

Ecological Aspects of Microplastics

Joint Action Facts
Action period: February 2013
Funding: € 7,700,000
Strategic area:
  • Interdisciplinary Research for Good Environmental Status
Type of action:
  • Joint call
Lead countries:
  • Germany
More Information
Secretariat Contact:

John Hanus
Tel. +32 (0) 2 626 16 77


The pilot action Ecological Aspects of Microplastics was proposed by Germany in the Management Board of February 2013. In an iterative process scientific experts together with the members of the Management Board (MB) have defined the scope of this pilot action as comprising methods, monitoring and effects of microplastics. Following a bibliometric study, foresight exercise and methods workshop, ten member countries published a joint call in 2015 of 7.7 million Euro. Four projects were selected for funding from January 2016 for a three year period.

  • BASEMAN - Defining the baselines and standards for microplastics analyses in European waters
  • EPHEMARE - Ecotoxicological effects of microplastics in marine ecosystems
  • PLASTOX - Direct and indirect ecotoxicological impacts of microplastics on marine organisms
  • WEATHER-MIC - How microplastic weathering changes its transport, fate and toxicity in the marine environment


The action aims to take stock of, evaluate and improve current methods for microplastic research. Given the relatively recent emergence of microplastic research, there is a lack of harmonised and validated research methodologies for the quantification and qualification of plastic particles from selected matrices (sediment, biota and water column). The pilot action seeks to assure and control the quality of current assessment methods with the aim of developing robust and cost-effective research methods and protocols, and ultimately, comparable and validated microplastics data.
Furthermore, the pilot action aims to improve our understanding of the impacts of microplastics. While several studies have already demonstrated harmful effects of plastic particles, the (ecotoxicological) impacts on organisms, populations and ecosystems are still understudied. The action aims to explore the risks associated with plastics in the marine environment, inter alia, by further examining the mechanisms of how plastic particles are taken up and passed along the trophic chain, thus potentially entering the human food chain.


So far a variety of methods for the quantification of micro-plastics exist which basically do not allow quantitative comparisons of the existing studies. It is expected that the pilot action will enable the standardisation of the methodologies for the identification and quantification of micro-plastics in the marine environment. 
  • Validation and harmonisation of research methodologies and protocols for microplastics research. 
  • Improved capacity to identify and quantify microplastic particles in the marine environment. 
  • Furthered the understanding of the (ecotoxicological) effects of plastic particles on marine organisms and systems

Next steps

The projects will meet for their annual meeting at the next JPI Oceans conference in the fall of 2017.


Microplastics are persistent, ubiquitous and have a high potential to cause physical and toxicological harm. Microplastics have been identified as an artificial substrate which could affect ecological processes and facilitate transportation of invasive species. However, knowledge about the origin, abundance and distribution of microplastics in marine systems is still limited. Furthermore, the toxicological and ecological effects on marine organisms and ultimately on human health are also insufficiently studied. Hence, for the protection of marine habitats and the safety of marine resources and seafood, JPI Oceans Member Countries decided to launch a pilot action in the field, which included:

Bibliometric Study

 JPI Oceans conducted a bibliometric study which revealed a map of strong national research clusters connected in international and global networks. The study was performed as a scoping tool and to provide a baseline for further monitoring of the expanding research field 

Foresight exercise in microplastics 

In order to support the development of the pilot action, the CSA Oceans project conducted a thematic foresight exercise in microplastics. The exercise developed a roadmap for microplastics research for Europe, identifying four research areas, which were used to inform the scientific orientation of the Pilot Action. 

Best practice guidelines 

On behalf of JPI Oceans, Ghent University, with the support of the Flemish Government, hosted an international scientific experts workshop on microplastics in January 2015. The workshop reviewed the current state of science and identified best practices for methodologies, in particular with a view to developing a risk assessment framework. 

Joint Call on microplastics 

Ten Member Countries of JPI Oceans launched a joint call on microplastics in January 2015 with an overall budget of approx. €7.5m. Four projects were selected for funding from 31 December 2015 for a period of 36 months.

Publications joint actions
Bergmann, M. et al. High Quantities of Microplastic in Arctic Deep-Sea Sediments from the HAUSGARTEN Observatory. Environ. Sci. Technol., 51 (19), 11000–11010; doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b03331 (2017).
Jahnke et al., Reducing Uncertainty and Confronting Ignorance about the Possible Impacts of Weathering Plastic in the Marine Environment, Environmental Science & Technology Letters 2017 4 (3), 85-90 DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00008 
Kühn, S., et al., The use of potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution as a suitable approach to isolate plastics ingested by marine organisms, Marine Pollution Bulletin (2016), 

Primpke, S. et al. An automated approach for microplastics analysis using focal plane array (FPA) FTIR microscopy and image analysis. Anal. Methods. Rep. 9, 1499-1511; doi: 10.1039/C6AY02476A (2017).

Suaria, G. et al. The Mediterranean Plastic Soup: synthetic polymers in Mediterranean surface waters. Sci. Rep. 6, 37551; doi: 10.1038/srep37551 (2016).


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