Plastic on the Menu? What You Need to Know about Microplastic

The Big Impact of Tiny Plastic

These days, we’re all familiar with stories about how much unsightly, chemical-absorbing plastic waste now floats in our oceans. Through the efforts of The Washed Ashore Project and others, we’re more aware than ever before of the devastating impact of plastic on sea life who can get choked on it, or ensnared by it, or whose intestines can become clogged by it.

But now a couple of new studies are also revealing the impact, chemically speaking, on sea life who ingest the tiniest microparticles of plastic waste, known as microplastic.

Microplastic results when larger pieces of plastic waste break down over time into smaller and smaller fragments. Eventually these particles can become so tiny that they look like food to even very small fish. And while these miniscule dots of plastic don’t choke the fish, they are proving harmful nevertheless.

A New Favorite Food of Fish?

fishFor example, reports that research from Uppsala University published in the journal Science reveals some European perch larvae actually preferred eating microplastic particles to zooplankton, their natural diet.

And in the study, the fish that fed on plastic experienced changes in behavior and became less active. They were also “less responsive to predator cues, more likely to be eaten, and less likely to thrive—preferring to eat plastic rather than their natural prey,” according to the study’s authors.

Oyster on the Clamshell?

Oyster on the ClamshellAnother study, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed the harmful impact of microplastics on oysters exposed to polystyrene microparticles. (Imagine tiny bits of plastic disintegrated from things like packing peanuts, CD/DVD cases, fast-food containers and clamshells, disposable cutlery, bottles, lids and trays, etc.). The news for oysters—and undoubtedly for other filter-feeders who also accidentally ingest microplastics—isn’t good. Polystyrene microparticles were shown to interfere with such important functions as:

  • Energy uptake and allocation
  • Reproduction
  • Offspring performance

This indicates that microplastics may actually reduce reproductive output in marine species. In other words, as the amount of microplastic increases in the world’s oceans, marine life could be on the decline.

More research will be done on this topic, but for now please remember to be vigilant about plastic in your world. Reduce and reuse where you can and recycle the rest.

comment_2How about you? Are you taking steps to avoid plastic where you can? Are you encouraging others to reduce, reuse and recycle? We’d love to hear your success stories! Just drop us a line in the comments below.

Washed Ashore: The Facts
BBC News: Fish eat plastic like teens eat fast food, researchers say
Movement Blog: 12 Major Sources of Plastic Pollution
Nature World News:
Young Fish Now Prefers Eating Plastic Over Real Food, Study Finds

Science: Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology
Seeker: Oysters Are Munching On Our Microplastics
Wikipedia: Polystyrene
PNAS: Oyster reproduction is affected by exposure to polystyrene microplastics

Have you ever reused a plastic throwaway container?

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