You can’t manage what you can’t measure!

That’s why the New England Aquarium is teaming up with Draper and the Environmental Protection Agency to measure microplastics in local waters.

What are microplastics?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long. Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. 



Harmful microplastics can be found in clothing such as fleece jackets. Synthetic clothes are the greatest producers of microplastics.

Why they might be harmful? 

Plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in the ocean. Large pieces of plastic get broken down into microscopic particles by sunlight, ocean waves, and microbes. These particles attract pollutants in the water and are then ingested by animals. Early research suggests microplastics can gradually make their way up the food chain, starting with tiny zooplankton that are eaten by larger fish. More research is needed to determine if microplastics are occurring even further up the food web. Little is known about the volume and distribution of microplastics in the water because no measurement solution currently exists.

Launching an investigation

The New England Aquarium is joining Draper and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on an exciting, local expedition in which they will visit different points within Boston Harbor to take samples throughout the water column and test for the presence and concentration of microplastics. Draper will use this data to assist with the development of the first on-site, real-time microplastics-sensing system. It will measure the amount of microplastics in an underwater area and identify the types of plastics. The EPA, in partnership will Draper, will launch a Plastic Particle Pollution index (PPPI) with measurements and trend predictions of microplastic particle concentrations in the world’s oceans, coastal regions, and rivers. The goal is that the data gathered worldwide will be available online, in near real time, on the PPPi, creating transparency and collective accountability. 

Have questions?

As part of the expedition, we will present a live interaction at the Aquarium with members of Draper and the EPA Microplastics Expert Team. Visit the Aquarium this Friday, October 18, to have an interactive experience with the scientists! Can’t make it? Join us at 11 a.m. on Instagram for a question-and-answer session about microplastics. Before the session, send your questions to, and we’ll answer them in our Instagram story!

Learn more about ocean plastics: