Microplastics have become a concern in recent years as they pollute the marine environment, enter food chains and potentially impact human health. Defined as particles of plastic less than 5mm in diameter, this research explores the understandings of these pollutants in a specified location- Langstone Harbour, Hampshire. There are relatively few studies which focus on perceptions of microplastics, and none which examine Langstone Harbour. This study has found there to be a good understanding of the issue of microplastics in Langstone Harbour, however recreational users see there to be issues of greater importance in the harbour, such as water quality and littering. The study addresses how managing microplastics in one location is a challenge and addresses other ways to manage and raise awareness of microplastics.

Study Site

Langstone Harbour is located between three linked harbours on the southeast coast of Hampshire in the Solent, with Portsmouth Harbour to the west and Chichester Harbour to the east. The Harbour holds importance for its number of environmental designations, which include being a: Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Local Nature Reserve (LNR). Due to this the Harbour’s wildlife and habitats are of national and international importance.

The Solent has a high propensity for plastics, plastics in the form of microbeads and plastics broken down from larger forms. Research carried out into the Solent region found significant quantities of plastic within the Solent estuarine complex. Key local sources such as wastewater treatment plants and the plastic industry were identified as being major inputs of microplastics.


The research design used a mixed method approach, combining qualitative and quantitative data in the same study. A questionnaire was carried out by recreational users of Langstone Harbour, along with 5 semi structured interviews with professionals whose work relates to Langstone Harbour. Results were then analysed to identify key themes.

Results and discussion

The questionnaire was sent to 12 clubs and responses were gained from seven. In total 63 questionnaire responses were filled out, along with five semi structured interviews.

Defining microplastics

Respondents were asked to define microplastics, the answers were analysed, and common themes displayed in a graph (figure 1). Due to the respondents mainly consisting of recreational water users they had a higher than expected understanding of microplastics, probably because of their involvement in the marine environment causing them to be more environmentally aware than most of the general public. Previous studies have shown that those with more involvement and awareness of the environment have a greater understanding of microplastics. The most common answer to “what do you think is the cause of microplastics?” was rubbish disposal or littering, with 36.5% of respondents stating it as a cause of microplastics. Sewage also scored highly with 15.9%. Cosmetics, which are an example of a primary microplastic was scored amongst the lowest, with only 1.6% of respondents stating they thought cosmetics are a cause of microplastics. Therefore overall, there is a range of level of knowledge on microplastics. It can be understood that as respondents are involved with the marine environment through their recreational activities or through their professional work their knowledge and understanding of microplastics is greater than those not involved in the marine environment.

Perceptions of microplastics in Langstone Harbour

Just under 70% agree or strongly agree that microplastics are an issue in Langstone Harbour, with only 3.2% somewhat disagreeing and no one disagreeing or strongly disagreeing (see figure 2). Respondents were given a list of statements relating to the risks and impacts of microplastics in Langstone Harbour and asked to state the extent to which they agree or disagree, shown in figure 3. The most obvious result is that almost 65% strongly agree that microplastics in Langstone Harbour are harmful to animals, with almost all the other respondents agreeing. Respondents were not asked why they are harmful to animals, however throughout responses to other questions the idea of microplastics entering the food chain came up. For example, several spoke of this when describing what a microplastic is- gets into the food chain of fish and wild animals and eaten by various wildlife and incorporated into the higher food chain.

Questionnaire respondents were asked to rank what they believe to be the top three environmental issues at Langstone Harbour (Figure 4). Microplastic pollution ranked third overall, coming after water pollution and litter pollution (macroplastics rather than micro). The questionnaire asked respondents if they had any other comments or observations, they would like to state relating to microplastics at Langstone Harbour. Issues that came up included: fly tipping, discarded fishing gear, noise pollution i.e. from jet-skiers and lack of rubbish bins. In addition, sewage was brought up as an issue, such as Pollution by Southern Water is a far bigger issue and Southern Waters discharge of raw sewage should not be allowed. The sewage issue was also commonly mentioned in the interviews, with three out of five interviewees acknowledging it. For example, I know we have a nitrate problem in the Solent, raw sewage can go out and the implications that come with eutrophication and, also sewage is a massive one [issue]. One interviewee stated there’s a lot of water sports users who go out, they are continually reporting being unwell from that [sewage].

Managing microplastics

82.5% of survey respondents agreed that more should be done to tackle microplastics in Langstone Harbour, with the other 17.5% stating they were unsure. It was asked how the general public could be informed or educated on microplastics in Langstone Harbour (figure 5), respondents could tick as many options as they felt were applicable. The majority (93.7%) stated education in schools. Previous studies have stated that incorporating ocean education such as pollution and waste management issues into school curriculums could be extremely valuable as by targeting youth habits, practices can be adopted that may indirectly involve ocean protection, e.g. choosing alternative products or practising efficient waste disposal. Notably, none of the interviewees mentioned education in schools as a method of informing on microplastics. Signs at the harbour was the next most popular option from the questionnaire. Interviewees also stated on the importance of signage when informing the public on microplastic pollution. For example, I guess there’s lots of notice boards around, it could be through that. However, one interviewee, who is the commodore of a sailing club in Langstone Harbour, stated that the general public don’t seem to read things in general, as  the interviewee said signs are often ignored in the harbour, for instance those informing of a private slipway. Interviewees spoke of local newspapers, social media and litter picks all being able to raise awareness of microplastics in the area.

It was a common acknowledgement that it is difficult to manage microplastics in one specific area. A recurring theme throughout both the interviews and the questionnaire was the consensus that microplastics are a worldwide issue and therefore need managing at a higher than local level. For example, I think what needs to be done is there needs to be serious talks with companies further up the chain, the ones that it is coming from. There needs to be national and international ways of getting these out of the environment. As well as questionnaire respondents stating I didn’t realise it was a particular issue in Langstone- I thought it was more worldwide and This is a much wider issue than just Langstone. This is supported by 82.5% of questionnaire respondents strongly agreeing that microplastics are a global issue and 79.3% strongly agreeing that microplastics require global action. A means of informing the public on microplastics that was mentioned in both the questionnaire and the interviews was the power of television and well know broadcasters such as David Attenborough in being able to raise awareness of environmental issues.

It is not always appropriate to attempt to manage microplastics in one specific location as they occur in oceans worldwide and need to be managed higher up than just at a local level. Local management can take place through attempting to control the litter problem in general. However, this does not specifically target microplastics, but it is these larger plastics that will eventually break down into microplastics and pollute the harbour. Along with management, awareness can be raised of microplastics through methods such as education, litter picks and The Big Microplastic Survey. By raising awareness locally people may be inclined to change their behaviour towards their plastic consumption and disposal to better protect their marine environment, both locally and globally.


This research has provided insight into the views of recreational users of Langstone Harbour towards microplastics in the harbour. By evaluating the perceptions of both recreational users along with professionals involved with the harbour, it has been possible to ascertain the level of knowledge and understanding of microplastics in general and in the harbour. It has then been possible to evaluate ways in which microplastics can be managed in the harbour and how awareness can be raised by using these views of harbour users.

  • There are issues of greater importance in Langstone Harbour- littering and water pollution/sewage
  • Managing microplastics in Langstone Harbour is a challenge due to the microplastics entering the environment from sources outside the control of any agency who manages the harbour
  • 70% of respondents see microplastics as an issue in Langstone Harbour
  • Education and informing on microplastics in the area can be achieved by education and litter picks

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