//
you're reading...

Plastic

First evidence of plastic microfibre consumption by deep-sea animals

Paper: Taylor, ML, Gwinnett, C, Robinson, LF, Woodall, LC (2016).  Plastic microfibre ingestion by deep-sea organisms.  Scientific Reports: 33997.  doi: 10.1038/srep33997

100% Polyester fleece jacket. (Image credit: Megan Chen)

100% Polyester fleece jacket. (Image credit: Megan Chen)

Plastic has amazing and convenient qualities: it’s cheap, durable, lightweight and waterproof.  We use it for many things such as grocery store bags, containers, furniture, and we even weave it together to make synthetic fabrics for our clothes. Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t decompose via living organisms, or biodegrade, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces to become microplastics.  Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in length.  They include plastics broken down from larger pieces, as well as microbeads–small plastic beads found in some face wash and shampoos, and microfibres–small thread-like pieces that are found in clothing like fleece jackets. Unlike microbeads, which have been banned in several countries, we are just starting to detect and assess microfibre presence in the environment.  Turns out, when we wash clothing made from synthetic fabrics such as acrylic and polyester, tiny fibers are shed.  Because microfibres are so small, they can escape wastewater treatment plants and enter waterways.  Once in the water, plastic tends to ‘collect’ or adsorb pollutants, metals and bacteria that could negatively affect marine life if ingested.  Studies have already shown that microplastics are inadvertently eaten by animals that live in the open ocean such as tuna and whales and are present in our seafood; however a lot less is known about the existence of microplastics in the deep sea in part due to the logistical challenges of researching in such an extreme environment.  The discovery of microplastics in deep sea sediments was covered previously on oceanbites here, but for the first time ever, scientists have found evidence that deep sea animals are actually consuming plastic microfibres.  

 

Image 1: crosses represent all known sites with plastic microfibre contamination present in sediment samples. White circles locations where animals in this study were collected.

Figure 1: Crosses represent all known sites with plastic microfibres found in sediment samples. White circles represent sites where animals in this study were collected from. Figure used with permission from Taylor et al., 2016

To conduct this study, nine deep sea animals including an anemone, two sea cucumbers, two soft corals, a squat lobster, two zoanthids (small anemone-like polyps) and a hermit crab were collected with a suction hose and mechanical arm of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) during expeditions in the Southwest Indian Ocean in 2011 and mid-Atlantic in 2013, see the white circles in Figure 1.  The animals’ stomach, mouth, internal cavities and respiratory organs were then dissected and studied under a microscope.  Due to the nature of the study, contamination prevention was a priority.  Anyone handling the specimens wore clothing only made from natural fibres, non-plastic tools were used, and damp filter paper was used to detect microplastic contamination near the dissection area.  Furthermore, strict lab protocols were followed based on forensic laboratories that analyze fibres evidence.

 

Figure 2: a) sea pen and b) hermit crab in their habitat before being collected taken by Taylor, ML. c) polyester microfibre and d) acrylic microfibre found within deep sea animals, taken by Gwinnet, C. (Figure used with permission from Taylor et al., 2016).

Figure 2: a) sea pen and b) hermit crab in their habitat before being collected taken by Taylor, ML. c) polyester microfibre and d) acrylic microfibre found within deep sea animals, taken by Gwinnet, C. (Figure used with permission from Taylor et al., 2016).

Five types of plastic microfibres: modified acrylic, polypropylene, viscose, polyester and acrylic, were found in six out of the nine ocean animals collected including a sea cucumber, squat lobster, sea pen, hermit crab and two zoanthids, see Figure 2.  Plastic microfibre consumption seems to be happening across many different types of animals, since microfibres were found across three different phylums (cnidaria–sea pen, zoanthids, crustacea–squat lobster and hermit crab & echinodermata–sea cucumber).  It is also occurring in animals across different feeding strategies as plastic microfibres were found in filter feeders, scavengers and predators.  While the sample size of this study is small, it appears that microfibre pollution makes up the majority of microplastic pollution in the deep sea, yet most feeding experiments conducted in labs use microbeads or plastic shavings.  Furthermore, ingestion of plastic microfibres by deep sea organisms may hold many consequences for individual animals and for ecological communities as a whole if this problem is pervasive.  Chemicals used in roughly half of all plastics have been identified as hazards by the United Nations, and that is not even including plastic’s known property for adsorbing other pollutants, metals and bacteria.

 

This study shows that our plastic problem can reach even the most remote habitats on Earth, such as the deep sea.  And while we don’t quite know the full extent of what we’re dealing with, it’s our responsibility to protect and manage the problem before it gets worse.  There is a device being released soon by the Rozalia Project that is meant to be thrown into your laundry machine to capture microfibres before they enter the wastewater treatment system, but perhaps we could design better wastewater treatment plants to capture them.  Or, is it a completely crazy idea to turn to natural fibres or develop and use better fabrics that will biodegrade over time?  Regardless, seeing that there is already evidence that microplastics are entering our diets through seafood, but also through poultry and swine that are fed fishmeal, we need to address this issue to secure the safety of our food, our health and the ecosystems we depend on.  

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com