Featured Image Credit:www.ecoleaberdeen.fr
It’s time to add yet another item to the long list of detrimental impacts that plastic has on our oceans.
If you’re familiar with the plastic oceans crisis, then you might know about the associated issue of microplastics. Microplastics are the tiny bits of plastic material that form as a result of photodegredation (plastic doesn’t ever completely degrade into its elemental components: it only breaks down into smaller, more problematic pieces). These microplastics are often considered to be an even greater threat than their macro- counterparts because they are too small to just be scooped up out of the water.
Now, scientists in the Baltic Sea have found another, more sinister reason for concern. Several controlled experiments have shown that larval perch (a fish native to the region) actively choose to eat the microplastic particles instead of the real, nutritious plankton that they ought to be feeding on.
Though the reason for this behavior is still under investigation, the effects of this experiment are clear as day. The larvae that were exposed to microplastics were consumed by predators four times as fast as the larvae that maintained a normal diet. In addition, all the larvae that were exposed to plastic particles had been killed within 48 hours of the start of the experiment.
The researchers proposed that the plastic had an effect on the larvae’s sensory abilities, as they appeared to be unable to “smell” a predator nearby. This is not the first research that has exposed the chemical impacts of plastic.
Previous studies over the years (like these from UCSB and UC Davis) have shown that various chemical compound found in different kinds of plastic impact the biological processes of fish and invertebrates – including altering the sex of adult fish!
And it’s not just the prey who suffer: plastic chemicals have a nasty habit of biomagnifying up the food chain because no one’s tummy is prepared to digest the industrialized material. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of photos of dissected fish, birds, and mammals with guts full of plastic.
Microplastics are everywhere, and some of the worst culprits are in your everyday items like facewash and toothpaste (You know those “refreshing” little beads in your favorite scrub? Yeah. Those are microplastics). If you want to do your part to help prevent even more plastics from entering the ocean, check out our article on reducing plastic in your life!
Read more about the plastic-eating larvae here