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

Batel, Annika, et al. (2018) Microplastic accumulation patterns and transfer of benzo [a] pyrene to adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) gills and zebrafish embryos, Environmental Pollution, DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.01.028

Batel, Annika, et al. (2016) Transfer of benzo [a] pyrene from microplastics to Artemia nauplii and further to zebrafish via a trophic food web experiment: CYP1A induction and visual tracking of persistent organic pollutants, Environmental toxicology and chemistry, DOI: 10.1002/etc.3361

Bergmann, M. et al. (2017) High Quantities of Microplastic in Arctic Deep-Sea Sediments from the HAUSGARTEN Observatory. Environmental Science and Technology, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b03331

Bour, Agathe, et al. (2018) Environmentally relevant microplastic exposure affects sediment-dwelling bivalves, Environmental Pollution, DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.02.006

Gago, J., et al.  (2018) Synthetic microfibers in the marine environment: A review on their occurrence in seawater and sediments, Marine Pollution Bulletin, DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.11.070
Jahnke et al. (2017) Reducing Uncertainty and Confronting Ignorance about the Possible Impacts of Weathering Plastic in the Marine Environment, Environmental Science & Technology Letters, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00008 
Kühn, S., et al. (2016) The use of potassium hydroxide (KOH) solution as a suitable approach to isolate plastics ingested by marine organisms, Marine Pollution Bulletin, DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.11.034

Mintenig, S. M., et al. (2017) Identification of microplastic in effluents of waste water treatment plants using focal plane array-based micro-Fourier-transform infrared imaging, Water Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2016.11.015

Peeken, Ilka, et al. (2018) Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastic, Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03825-5

Primpke, S. et al. (2017) An automated approach for microplastics analysis using focal plane array (FPA) FTIR microscopy and image analysis. Analytical Methods, DOI: 10.1039/C6AY02476A

Ogonowski, Martin, et al. (2018) Evidence for selective bacterial community structuring on microplastics, Environmental microbiology, DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.14120

Ogonowski, Martin, et al. (2017) What we know and what we think we know about microplastic effects –a critical perspective, Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, DOI: 10.1016/j.coesh.2017.09.001

O'Donovan, Sarit, et al. (2018) Ecotoxicological effects of chemical contaminants adsorbed to microplastics in the clam Scrobicularia plana, Frontiers in Marine Science, DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00143

Rummel, Christoph D., et al. (2017) Impacts of biofilm formation on the fate and potential effects of microplastic in the aquatic environment, Environmental Science & Technology Letters, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00164

Suaria, G. et al. (2016) The Mediterranean Plastic Soup: synthetic polymers in Mediterranean surface waters. Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep37551


Periodic Report microplastics projects

The periodic reports of the four microplasics projects funded within the framework of JPI Oceans have been delivered to the funding partners and JPI Oceans secretariat. The executive summaries of the reports can be downloaded below

Participating countries


Federal Public Planning Service Science Policy (BELSPO)

Contact: David Cox


Research Centre Juelich (JÜLICH)

Contact: Joachim Harms

Research Centre Juelich (JÜLICH)

Contact: Ulrich Wolf


Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Government of Spain. Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competiveness (MINECO)

Contact: Lourdes Armesto


French National Research Agency (ANR)

Contact: Maurice Heral


Marine Institute Ireland (MI)

Contact: John Evans


Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR)

Contact: Aldo Covello


Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Contact: Josef F. Stuefer


Research Council of Norway (RCN)

Contact: Kristin E. Thorud


Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT)

Contact: Rita Silva


Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS)

Contact: Lisa Almesjö

Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (HaV)

Contact: Mats Svensson

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