Dr Ruth Barnich, Principal Taxonomist at environmental consultancy Thomson Ecology explores tackling the issue of microplastics, with a focus on how we can better assess their impact on the environment and the food chain The presence of plastic… Read More ›
Microplastics in Ocean
She says understanding how plastic gets into fish matters not just to the fish, but to us. “We eat fish that eat plastic,” she says. “Are there things that transfer to the tissue? Does the plastic itself transfer to the tissue? Do the chemicals associated with the plastic transfer to the tissue?”
Prevention starts when consumers refuse to use plastic, or lawmakers try to ban it bag by bag. Also following the adage of reduce, reuse, and recycle what you don’t refuse. But much of the trash that comes ashore appears to come from foreign places or as the detritus from industries notorious for ocean litter.
“One of the types of organisms that seems to be affected is crustacean zooplankton, which are the main prey for many small fishes,” said Höök, whose findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. “The fact that these very small organisms are consuming these microplastics, altering their growth, reproduction and survival, means there could be consequences up the food web. If zooplankton numbers decline, there may be less food available for organisms at higher trophic levels.”
“Microplastic particles were found throughout all cores sampled … It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean. Nowhere is immune.”
“Given their pervasive and persistent nature, microplastics have become a global environmental concern and a potential risk to human populations,” said Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester and colleagues in their report, published in Nature Geoscience.
“There is now evidence that some of these toxins on the microplastics can be transferred to animals that eat them, with potential harmful effects.”
“Microplastics have been found in mussels everywhere scientists have looked,” she said.
The equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic waste is dumped into the world’s oceans every minute, equal to 8 million tons a year. New research suggests that 90 percent of that waste gets into the oceans through 10 major river systems.
“Isolating plastic fibres from inside animals from nearly 11 kilometres deep (seven miles) just shows the extent of the problem. Also, the number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometre distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global.”