A new study from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Eckerd College raises new questions about the impact of pollution on marine life in this vital ecosystem.
This is the first measurement of microplastic abundance and distribution in the region. Researchers hope the findings will provide necessary data to inform the debate around policies to reduce plastic in the marine environment.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 1/8 of an inch, barely or not at all visible to the eye. They come from the breakdown of larger plastics, such as water bottles, fishing gear and plastic bags, or from synthetic clothing and other items that contain elements of plastic. Previous studies have found these particles in every ocean on the planet and even in the Arctic.
“Very little is known about how much microplastics are out there and the full consequences of these particles on marine life,” said Kinsley McEachern, the first author of the study and a recent Environmental Science and Policy graduate student at USF St. Petersburg. “But emerging research indicates a wide range of impacts on marine ecosystems from the large accumulation of microplastics.”
Since particles are similar size as plankton, filter feeders such as oysters, clams, many fish and some birds ingest microplastics, allowing them to enter the food chain. Persistent organic pollutants, including toxic pesticides, and metals can stick to their surfaces, making ingestion potentially that much more damaging. Effects include cellular damage, reproductive disruption and even death.
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Image ia Cypress Hansen, University of South Florida St. Petersburg