Marine life can potentially choke on plastics but researchers from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) have said tests show toxins absorbed by plastic are transferred to the animal that ingests it.
Professor Richard Banati has chartered a ship, the Yukon, from Hobart to Sydney trawling for plastics.
The plastics collected are used to research the impact of the pollutants on marine life and the food chain.
The Yukon stopped at the Port Hacking River, south of Sydney, on Thursday and will be trawling Sydney Harbour from Monday.
Professor Banati said ANSTO has data to suggest that birds that have eaten a lot of plastic show signs of impaired health, biological mutations and fertility problems.
“Certainly fertility can be impacted by what is in essence, a form of malnutrition,” he said.
He said there had been instances of birds developing albinism and very high levels of stress hormones.
“We do have data where animals that have had a high load of plastic also had transfer of those contaminants into the bird,” he said.
Professor Banati said ANSTO had seen a drop in the population of the Shearwater seabird, which is believed to be a result of
“[It] is quite indicative that the population is potentially under threat, or that the system at large, is unstable,” he said.
Professor Banati said chest feathers and stomach content from migratory seabirds were analysed to trace toxins back to the plastic.
He said plastics were highly absorbent of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic, which render the plastic highly toxic.
The research suggests that when a bird eats the plastic, rather than just sitting in the birds stomach, it degrades.
These heavy metals are then released into the bird’s biological system.
Professor Banati said the nuclear scientific methods used enable researchers to trace the plastic back to the producer.
This forensic method has the potential to hold the producer and the consumer accountable for the pollution.
“We are trying to develop a method whereby we do the forensics of plastic,” he said.
“When we find that plastic, we can make that plastic traceable.
“Because traceability allows us to make policy decisions.”
Professor Banati is hoping the research ANSTO is doing on plastics will lead the way for future research on plastic affecting the genetic make up of birds.
“We want to support our researchers that will finally ask the question: is the genetic material affected?” he said.
–From: ABC News