Estimates of marine debris accumulation on beaches are strongly affected by the temporal scale of sampling
Smith, SDA & Markic, A 2013, 'Estimates of marine debris accumulation on beaches are strongly affected by the temporal scale of sampling', PloS One, vol. 8, no. 12, e83694.
Marine debris is a global issue with impacts on marine organisms, ecological processes, aesthetics and economies. Consequently, there is increasing interest in quantifying the scale of the problem. Accumulation rates of debris on beaches have been advocated as a useful proxy for at-sea debris loads. However, here we show that past studies may have vastly underestimated the quantity of available debris because sampling was too infrequent. Our study of debris on a small beach in eastern Australia indicates that estimated daily accumulation rates decrease rapidly with increasing intervals between surveys, and the quantity of available debris is underestimated by 50% after only 3 days and by an order of magnitude after 1 month. As few past studies report sampling frequencies of less than a month, estimates of the scale of the marine debris problem need to be critically re-examined and scaled-up accordingly. These results reinforce similar, recent work advocating daily sampling as a standard approach for accurate quantification of available debris in coastal habitats. We outline an alternative approach whereby site-specific accumulation models are generated to correct bias when daily sampling is impractical.