Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Towards a North Pacific Ocean long-term monitoring program for plastic pollution: A review and recommendations for plastic ingestion bioindicators



Matthew Savoca, Susanne Kühn, Chengjun Sun, Stephanie Avery-Gomm, Anela Choy, Sarah Dudas, Sanghee Hong, David Hyrenbach, Tsung-Hsien Li, Connie Ka-yan Ng, Jennifer Provencher, Jennifer Lynch


Marine debris is now a ubiquitous component of the Anthropocene global ocean. Plastic ingestion by marine wildlife was first reported in the 1960s and since that time, roughly one thousand marine species have been reported to consume this debris. This study focuses on plastic ingestion by marine invertebrates and vertebrates in the North Pacific Ocean. Specifically, we reviewed the scientific literature to assess the scope of the problem, identified key bioindicator species, and proposed guidelines for future monitoring of plastic debris in North Pacific marine ecosystems. Our meta-analysis confirmed that the North Pacific is among the most polluted ocean regions globally; roughly half of all fish and seabird specimens and more than three-quarters of sea turtles and bivalve specimens examined in this region had consumed plastic. While there are not enough standardized data to assess if these ingestion rates are changing, sampling standardization and reporting of methods are improving over time. Using a rubric-evaluation approach, we evaluated 352 species for their potential to serve as bioindicators of the prevalence of plastic pollution in the North Pacific. This analysis revealed a suite of 12 bioindicator species candidates which sample a variety of ecosystem components and cover a wide range of plastic size classes. Thus, we contend that these bioindicator candidates provide a key foundation for developing a comprehensive plastic monitoring program in the region. To enhance the utility of these bioindicators, we developed a framework for standardized data collection to minimize methodological variability across different studies and to facilitate the assessment of temporal trends over space and time. Tracking plastic ingestion by these bioindicators will help to assess the effectiveness of mitigation actions in the region, a critical step to evaluate progress towards sustainability and improved ocean health in the 21st century.
Environmental Pollution


bioindicator, environmental monitoring, marine debris, plastic ingestion, North Pacific Ocean


Savoca, M. , Kühn, S. , Sun, C. , Avery-Gomm, S. , Choy, A. , Dudas, S. , Hong, S. , Hyrenbach, D. , Li, T. , Ka-yan Ng, C. , Provencher, J. and Lynch, J. (2022), Towards a North Pacific Ocean long-term monitoring program for plastic pollution: A review and recommendations for plastic ingestion bioindicators, Environmental Pollution, [online],, (Accessed April 14, 2024)
Created August 6, 2022, Updated November 29, 2022