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Microplastic fibers found in amphipods in deepest point of the ocean

Amsterdam, 27 March 2019 – Animals living in the deepest place of the world ingested plastic. The seafloor of the Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines, lies almost eleven kilometres below the surface of the sea. Last year researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. And the concentration of plastic particles was the highest, with 335 particles of mainly single-use plastics per square kilometre, at a depth of six kilometres.

Shocking discovery

And now, there has been another shocking discovery. In the deeps of the Mariana Trench lives a species of amphipods (Lysianassoidea amphipod) and marine biologists of Newcastle University, who study marine life in the trenches of the Pacific Ocean, wondered if plastic would be present in these amphipods. The researchers sampled 90 amphipods from the MarianaTrench and five other oceanic trenches.

Photo: Newcastle University

Mainly synthetic fibers

The result is shocking: 72% of the amphipods contained at least one particle of plastic. In the MarianaTrench all the amphipods contained plastic. And 84% of the microplastic fibers originated from synthetic clothing while 16% originated from other microplastics. In the least contaminated trench, the New Hebrides Trench, still half of the sampled amphipods contained plastic. The largest fiber was a few millimetres long, purple, twisted in the shape of an eight, and found in an amphipod barely a few centimetres tall.

This Newcastle University study is the first time proof that even animals living in the deepest locations on Earth ingest microplastics.

Also read: Plastic found in the deepest part of the ocean


Chemicals from plastic found in eggs of the fulmar

Amsterdam, February 20, 2019 – Fulmars skim the surface of the sea in search of food. They do not only ingest food, but also floating plastic. The stomach contents of the Northern Fulmar, according to long-term Dutch research, consists of twenty-five pieces of plastic on average. Researchers associated with the Canadian Wildlife Service have now discovered chemicals from plastic in the eggs of the fulmar for the first time. The researchers presume that the substances originate from the swallowed plastic and end up in egg yolks through the bloodstream.

Eggs from the Northern Fulmars that nestle on the island of Prince Leopold in the polar region north of Canada were investigated. One egg contained hormone disrupting substances from plasticizers. Other eggs contained chemicals that are added to plastic to prevent disintegration and color loss.

The shocking research results were presented in Washington DC during a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and have not yet been published. Only a limited amount of eggs were examined. The research group now wants to investigate more eggs, also from birds that breed in areas where they come into contact with plastic much more than in the polar region.

Foto: kilda.org.uk

Also read the news in The Guardian.


Mussels loose their grip as a result of microplastics

Amsterdam, February 6, 2019 – Mussels attach themselves with thin threads to a hard surface, rock or rope. These byssal threads, or “beards”, are exceptionally strong and elastic and can withstand currents and the wash of waves. The mussels are attached to each other with the same threads, leading to the creation of mussel beds. Mussel beds are of great importance both ecologically and economically.

Irish research, published in Environmental Pollution, has established that blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), which are subjected to polyethylene microplastics for a period of 52 days, loose their grip. Polyethylene is a kind of plastic used for, amongst other things, packaging.  

The strength of the byssal threads was reduced by 50%, and the mussels that were subjected to the microplastics also produced a significantly lower number of threads. Further, the subject mussels were found to have a weakened immune system and metabolism.

Lead researcher Danielle Green warns in The Guardian for the negative effect to the biodiversity of the mussel beds when the mussels wash away as a result of their weakened grip.

This is one of the first studies concerning the damaging effect to the ecosystem. At the end of last year, French researchers showed that chemicals that attach themselves to plastics in seawater, or which leach from plastic, paralyse the defence mechanism of winkles. In this way these shellfish become easier prey for crabs: this, too, disturbs the natural balance.

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Common periwinkel is easy prey because of toxic microplastics

Amsterdam, 29 November 2018 – The common periwinkel (Littorina littorea), a sea dwelling snail, is on the menu of the green shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Normally, the periwinkle defends itself by retreating into its shell as soon as it spots the crab. Research is now showing that this defence mechanism, called chemosensory, does not work any more because of the toxic substances from microplastics.

In the laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, snails were placed in water with a concentration of microplastic pellets. New pellets were used and, in the same experimental set-up, pellets from the beaches of the Calais Strait. This last group of pellets had been in the sea for a long time. The new and still clean pellets had some impact on the behavioural change of the periwinkels, but the pellets from the sea had a much greater impact. Microplastics in the sea attract toxic substances from their surroundings like a magnet. The research is published in Biology Letters.

The chemical substances that attach to the plastic in sea water or that leach out of the plastic, impair the defence mechanism of the periwinkle. They are rendered unable to detect the predatory crabs on time. The results suggest a drastic effect of microplastics at sea on animals that are dependent on chemosensory. This is the first study that not only looks at the consequences of one species, but also at the interaction between two species, one of which is the prey of the other.

Also read: Endless varieties of wildlife consuming and defecating plastic

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Endless varieties of wildlife consuming and defecating plastic

Amsterdam, 27 November 2018 – Dutch researchers determined in 2015 already that the number of marine species affected by plastic either through swallowing it, or becoming entangled in it, had doubled since 1997: from a registered total of 267 to 557. In 2018, National Geographic reported this number as being around the 700. These numbers are, however, no reflection on the actual number of (marine) creatures impeded in any way by plastic. It merely reports on the number of varieties that were scientifically researched.

Do fresh water fish in the Amazon also ingest plastic? Until recently, this was an unanswered question because no research had ever been done. This is no longer the case and a total of sixteen varieties of fish in the River Xingu (Brazil) have since been scientifically researched. Thirteen varieties were found to contain microplastics – that’s 80%. A total of 172 fish were dissected and 96 pieces of plastic were retrieved from the stomachs of 45 fish. The most frequently occurring type of plastic was polyethylene. You can read the article from the magazine Environmental Pollution here. Scientists are alarmed that plastic pollution turns out to be widespread in the Amazon basin.

The fact that three varieties of fish held no plastic is no real indication that these fish are free of all plastic. It could just be coincidence that those examples just happened not to contain anything. If more examples of these three particular varieties of fish were examined it could easily transpire that they too have plastics in their innards.

Other than stomach contents, faeces is also a good indicator for the presence of microplastics. It transpires that practically all species, whenever researched, contain plastic in their poop. Not only humans but South American Fur Seals in the wild (a Science Direct itemor seabirds (as reported in Science of the Total Environment).

It’s gradually approaching the stage when there is no longer any point in tallying the numbers of creatures affected by plastic, but we must find proper scientific answers to the following: Which of the world’s species can we reasonably assume are not in any way touched by plastic, do not become entangled in it, neither ingest nor defecate it? Because the answer will indubitably be: horrendously few.

Photo: microplastics found in Amazonian fish 

Do read:

From plastic soup to plastic poop
Plastizers in plastic slow down babys language development 


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Trophic transfer of microplastics in seals confirmed

Amsterdam, 06 September 2018 – Marine animals eat microplastics when they mistake it for food. When they themselves are eaten, the microplastics are unintentionally ingested by the predator. This process is called the ‘trophic transfer’ of microplastics. The trophic transfer could potentially spread microplastics throughout the entire food chain. In a recently published study in Environmental Pollution, the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals, higher up in the food chain, is confirmed. This is an indirect but potentially important form of ingestion of microplastics.

To research the trophic transfer of microplastics, four captive grey seals were fed with mackerel caught off the English coast. The digestive tracts of 31 mackerels were examined to gain an impression of the presence of microplastics. The faeces of the seals were also collected twice a week for 16 weeks and examined for the presence of microplastics. The types of plastic that were found in the mackerel and the faeces showed significant overlap, with ethylene propylene the most commonly occurring type of plastic. There were some differences too, however. Ten of the 31 mackerels had 18 types of microplastics, 72% of which were plastic fibres and 28% small plastic fragments. In 15 of the 31 faeces, 26 microplastics were found, mostly consisting of small plastic fragments (69%) and, to a lesser degree, plastic fibres (31%).

The most important explanation for the differences is that the mackerel whose digestive tracts were examined were not the mackerel that were fed to the seals. Direct ingestion of the microplastics is unlikely as the seals had already resided in the centre for four years and were thus not recently exposed to plastic debris in the ocean. The researchers therefore concluded that this research confirms the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals.

The potential effects of the microplastics on the seals was also discussed. Previous research showed that microplastics in the digestive system reduces nutrition absorption, energy reserves and reproduction which could have a negative impact on the animals. Whether this also applies to seals is not known. Further, during the production process, added chemicals and organic substances that later attach to the plastic in the water may also have negative effects on the health of seals. Finally, the authors state the possible effects on human health. We too consume marine animals are thus exposed to microplastics through the trophic transfer. A recent survey mapped the potential health hazards of microplastics for humans.



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Bristle worms eat plastic

Amsterdam, 20 August 2018 – Buoys of polystyrene (EPS), often used for the cultivation of oysters and muscles in open sea in Korea and other countries, slowly disintegrate under the influence of sunlight. Research showed that a single buoy could break up in seven million particles. And about 100,000 of these types of buoys are used per square kilometre of ocean surface. However, a recent study showed that sunlight is not the only cause of the disintegration. Bristle worms (polychaetes) work their way into the buoy, eat the polystyrene and then excrete microplastics. This is an alarming find.

The Korean study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, found on average six to seven worms per buoy. And a single bristle worm can produce hundreds of thousands particles of microplastics in a single year. Laboratory experiments showed that one adult bristle worm excreted over 11,000 particles of microplastics in one week.

Bristle worms are at the bottom of the food chain and eaten by birds and fish. Researchers fear this could increase the spread of microplastics.

Two years ago, scientific research already discovered that the growth of the land-living earthworms is slowed down, and their live span is shortened, if they are exposed certain concentrations of microplastics. These organisms also spread microplastics by excreting them into the ground at greater depths.

Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick


Problem of ghost nets larger than imagined

Amsterdam, March 29, 2018 – The research team from The Ocean CleanUp has published their report on the amount of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not only is there much more than initially believed, but it is also accumulating rapidly. Almost half of the weight (more than 46%) appears to consist of abandoned fishing nets, which is not difficult to imagine; large floating ghost nets are several times heavier than individual pieces of floating plastic, and they are made for fishing in the sea.

It is well known that ghost nets and other abandoned fishing gear, such as buoys, contribute significantly to the plastic soup and turn millions of sea creatures into victims. What are large fishing companies doing to prevent their nets from being left behind? World Animal Protection has assessed the fifteen largest fishing companies in the world on this topic and has recently published a report on the findings. The results are shocking. None of the mega-fishing companies researched include the problem of ghost nets in their agenda, and they are certainly not taking action to prevent their nets from ending up in the ocean. Just one company acknowledges the existence of the problem at all; none of the companies report about it.

As long as there is no effective international control system, ships will continue to dump their nets with impunity.

Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick


Plastic Is Making Coral Reefs Sick

Amsterdam, January 30, 2018 — Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystem in the ocean. They brew with life, yet they are extremely vulnerable. It is well-known that fishing nets have a disastrous effect on reefs, and that in the case of heavy currents, the coral is easily broken by abandoned nets. A new scientific study has recently appeared in Science that points to additional negative effects of plastic on coral health; the insights are alarming. 

Corals are living organisms that can become ill. Plastic plays a major role in this process, as has recently been revealed for the first time. Plastic-damaged coral is weakened and therefore vulnerable to illness. These illnesses do not only affect single organisms, but spread throughout entire reefs.

Coral that ensnares plastic has a 20 times greater chance of becoming ill. Plastic can seal light and oxygen, and release toxins. The most alarming thing, however, is that bacteria can piggyback on plastic and colonize it. If pathogenic bacteria attack the coral, nothing can be done. Researchers compare such cases with gangrene, the ongoing process of tissue extinction in humans and animals. 

Between 2011 and 2014, 159 coral reefs were researched in the Southeast-Asian region and in Australia. The chance of coral becoming diseased increases dramatically when plastic lingers in the reefs; 89% of coral in the presence of plastic were found to be ill, as opposed to 4% of the coral in the absence of plastic. There is also a clear relationship between the degree of plastic pollution in reefs near countries with poor waste management, such as Indonesia (25.6 items per 100m2), versus those in the vicinity of countries that have better management, like Australia (0.4 items per 100m2).

Researchers estimate that by now there are more than 11 billion pieces of plastic present in reefs. If action is not taken, the number will rise to15.7 billion pieces by 2025. The food security of millions of people is at stake; when coral reefs die, many species of fish lose their breeding spot, which results in a reduction of species diversity.


Camels continue to die of plastic in the desert

Amsterdam, 9 January 2018 – Every week, Dr Ulrich Wernery performs a necropsy on camels. The Director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai has been doing this for years. He finds plastic in almost every camel’s stomach. Not just a little plastic, but an unimaginable amount of plastic. Given that the camels cannot digest the plastic that they eat, the plastic accumulates in their stomachs, forming larger and larger clumps. It is estimated that one of every two camels in the United Arab Emirates dies of plastic consumption. The picture shows the largest clump of plastic that Dr Wernery has found to date – a couple of hundred plastic bags, nylon twine and rope, weighing 52 kilos. 


When Dr Wernery sees a thin camel, he knows for sure that it has plastic in its stomach. The plastic in the stomach gives the camel a full feeling, and it starts eating less and less. On top of this, the plastic blocks the digestive tract. Of course, it is not only camels that die from ingesting plastic, it is also cows, goats, gazelles and sheep. Read an interview with Dr Wernery here. 

The American photographer and filmmaker, Chris Jordan, known for his shocking photos of dying albatross chicks on Midway island, filmed a lump of plastic like this two years ago.   

Dr Wernery has been warning about this phenomenon for more than ten years. Unfortunately, it has not led to any changes. Camels continue to die because so many people leave plastic behind in the desert and nobody cleans it up.   

Photo’s gratitude dr. Wernery.