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Plastic beads washing on shore: experts say they’re small in size, large in impact

Posted at 7:19 PM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-01 20:19:11-04

Local environmentalists are asking questions after thousands of plastic pellets showed up on local beaches recently. The highest concentration seems to be in the area of Bob Hall Pier.

The plastic pellets, also called nurdles, are used to make different kinds of plastic products. Billions of them are used each year to make things like water bottles or plastic bags.

The pellets are a dull color, small in size, and are pretty easy to miss unless you look at the ground closely.

David Phillips is a Corpus Christi resident who walks the beach several times a week with a metal detector. He searches the ground regularly for hidden treasures, but says he’s never seen the plastic pellets.

“To me, it would just look like a piece of shell or piece of sand,” Phillips said.

The plastic pellets measure about 3-5 millimeters in length. They were first spotted on Friday by local environmentalist, Jace Tunnell, the director of the Mission Aransas Reserve.

“We saw all these plastic pellets just littering the beach,” Tunnell said.

According to Tunnell, the plastic pellets are manufactured by different manufacturers and facilities. One of the closest facilities that makes them is near Port Lavaca. There are also others along the coast in Mexico.

Because of the pellets’ tiny size, shipments can be made of millions of these at any given time. During the process, a spill or mishandling of the product could occur. Tunnell believes that’s how some of them spilled into the Gulf.

Based on a rough estimate, Tunnell also believes there are nearly 1.6 million pellets near Bob Hall Pier. He believes another 370,000 are in areas just north and south of the pier.

However despite the plastic pellet’s small size, their impact can be large. Fish and other marine life could mistake the pellets for food.

“Pellets are so small to where small fish can eat them, and then what eats small fish? Bigger fish,” Tunnell said. “And then what eats bigger fish? Humans do,” he added.

Tunnell notified the US Coast Coast Guard about the pellets, as well as Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A spokesperson for TCEQ says they have since referred the issue to the Nueces County Coastal Parks.

State and county officials are unsure of who’s responsibility it is to clean the pellets up. Nor do they know how to clean up such a large amount of plastic pellets.