From: University of Oxford
Published October 3, 2016 07:11 AM

First evidence of deep-sea animals ingesting microplastics

Following the news that the UK government is to ban plastic microbeads by the end of 2017, a team of scientists led by the University of Oxford has discovered the first evidence of microplastics being ingested by deep-sea animals.

Researchers working on the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Cook at two sites in the mid-Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean found plastic microfibres inside creatures including hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers at depths of between 300m and 1800m.

This is the first time microplastics – which can enter the sea via the washing of clothes made from synthetic fabrics – have been shown to be ingested by animals at such depth.

The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr Michelle Taylor of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, lead author of the study, said: 'An important aim of this research expedition was to collect microplastics from sediments in the deep ocean – and we found lots of them. Given that animals interact with this sediment, such as living on it or eating it, we decided to look inside them to see if there was any evidence of ingestion.

'We found plastic microfibres inside a wide range of animals, including corals, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers. It's the first evidence that deep-sea animals are ingesting these microfibres.

'What's particularly alarming is that these microplastics were found in the deep ocean, thousands of miles away from land-based sources of pollution.'

Microplastics are generally defined as particles under 5mm in length and include the microfibres analysed in this study and the microbeads used in cosmetics that will be the subject of a government ban. Among the plastics found inside deep-sea animals in this research were polyester, nylon and acrylic. Microplastics are roughly the same size as ‘marine snow’ – the shower of organic material that falls from upper waters to the deep ocean and which many deep-sea creatures feed on.

Continue reading at the University of Oxford.

Image credit: Robinson/Isis ROV/ERC

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