//
you're reading...

Biology

Plankton are eating plastic!

Article:

Desforges, J. P. W., Galbraith, M., & Ross, P. S. (2015). Ingestion of microplastics by zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology69(3), 320-330. DOI: 10.1007/s00244-015-0172-5

Introduction:

We have known for a while that plastic debris ends up in the ocean. Recent studies have shown just how severe plastic pollution in the ocean has become. Each year, 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean, which is equivalent to 15 large garbage bags for every 3 feet of coastline. A major component of plastic pollution is made up of microplastics, which are barely visible (<5 mm in diameter) plastic fragments. Microplastics may originate from the breakdown of larger plastic items or enter with sewage runoff as microbeads from cosmetics or bath products.

Microplastics are everywhere in the ocean – they are found in extreme environments (i.e. within Arctic sea ice and deep water habitats) and can be ingested by a wide range of marine organisms such as mussels, whales and even corals! It should be no surprise that microplastic ingestion is beginning to show up at the base of marine food webs as well. Zooplankton, which are tiny crustaceans like krill and copepods, indirectly eat plastic particles they encounter in the water column. Zooplankton cannot “hand-pick” their food (i.e. phytoplankton cells). Instead, zooplankton use their external appendages to create a current, filter large amounts of water and bring prey to their mouths. With this feeding method, zooplankton might easily mistake a piece of plastic for plankton, particularly if they are of similar size. One group of researchers set out to identify how often zooplankton make this mistake and what the ramifications might be.

The study:  

Zooplankton samples were collected from vertical net tows at four locations off the coast of British Columbia (Fig. 1). Two types of zooplankton were picked out of the samples: the copepod Neocalanus cristatus and the krill Euphausia pacifica (Fig 2.). These zooplankton were chosen based on their high abundance in the North Pacific and because they are filter feeders that are potentially capable of ingesting microplastics. To count microplastics ingested by zooplankton, individuals were dissolved in nitric acid for 30 minutes or until all body tissue was digested. Any microplastics remaining after digestion were counted and sized.

Map

Figure 1: Zooplankton were collected from four major regions (circled) of coastal British Columbia.

Results:

Both species of zooplankton ingested microplastics! This marks the first confirmed report of zooplankton eating microplastics. How often do they eat microplastics? Microplastics were found in 1 in every 34 copepods and 1 in every 17 krill, indicating krill were more prone to plastic consumption. The slightly larger krill species ate bigger plastic particles, though all microplastics ranged in length from 0.4 to 0.9 mm (Fig. 2). In the study region of British  Columbia, ingested microplastics were more commonly found closer to the coastline, likely because of higher concentrations of sewage and plastic waste runoff near the industrialized coast.

Copepods

Figure 2: N. cristatus (A) and the larger E. pacifica (B) with a close-up of their feeding appendages. The average microplastic particle size detected in this study is shown in relation to feeding appendages for both species.

Discussion and Significance:

There are over 35,000 tons of microplastics floating in our oceans, and we are just starting to understand the consequence  these tiny plastic particles have on marine ecosystems. More and more marine species have been discovered to ingest microplastics. Now zooplankton can also be added to this list. Zooplankton are suspension filter feeders that target phytoplankton prey of a certain size, which unfortunately overlaps in size with microplastics. Unable to distinguish similar particle sizes, zooplankton can mistakenly ingest plastics (check out the stunning video below). Though clearly capable of ingesting microplastic, it remains unclear how this behavior will impact zooplankton health. Microplastics may block the digestive track of zooplankton, lead to inflammatory responses or decrease reproductive success – further research is needed.

What is more worrisome is the potential impact microplastics may have on marine organisms further up the food web. Zooplankton represent a critical energy source in the world’s oceans and are heavily preyed upon by fish and marine mammals. Microplastic particles can act like magnets for chemicals in the ocean, absorbing harmful substances which can make them toxic. When larger animals ingest microplastic-containing zooplankton, they may suffer from ingesting these toxins. This study brings up the potential threat microplastic consumption poses for salmon in the North Pacific. It was estimated that salmon in this region are ingesting microplastic-containing zooplankton at high levels. That means that this popular fish is ingesting large portions of toxins via their indirect ingestion of plastic particles. This could negatively impact the growth and health of salmon in the region. The ingestion of toxic chemicals and microplastics by predators such as salmon, also means that eventually these plastics and chemicals that we have dumped into our environment will make it onto our dinner table.

What can we do?

Plastic pollution is a major issue harming our oceans, but there are things we can do to help. Here are some small steps you can take to cut down on your plastic use and help protect our oceans.

Reduce your plastic consumption: bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store and use reusable products, such as water bottles, rather than constantly using single-use plastic products. Check ingredients in your cosmetics and body products and avoid any that use microbeads (more on microbeads). Recycle plastic products as often as you can. Volunteer for local beach clean ups or just pick up litter you find outside. If everyone does their part we can cut down on the amount of plastic that enters the ocean and reduce the ingestion of microplastics by marine organisms. It may seem like an immense task, but even these small steps can help to clean up our oceans.

 

For more tips on reducing plastic use, check out these sites:

http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/plastic-ocean/ 

http://www.deepseanews.com/2014/07/the-ocean-cleanup-part-1-alternatives-to-reduce-ocean-plastic/

 

Discussion

4 Responses to “Plankton are eating plastic!”

  1. We all know that pollution is a big problem, but microplastics can cause a bigger problem for the ecosystems around us. When plastics in the wild break down, they form microplastics. Microplastics are the same size as the food that plankton eat. Zooplankton cannot handpick their foods, they are filter feeders, so they take in whatever is the correct size. Even after many experiments, it is unclear how the plankton is affected. Its effects on the ecosystem might be more tragic, however, because the microplastics that the plankton ingest act as magnets for chemicals and toxins in the ocean water. Even though it doesn’t seem as though the toxins affect the plankton, the toxins will affect the organisms that eat the plankton, but you can reduce these effects by watching your plastic consumption and make sure you use soaps and other products that don’t contain microbeads. My first question for this article would be, how is it possible that the plankton does not realize that they are ingesting microplastics, especially when they are not able to get nutrients from it? Secondly, how would scientists analyze if the plankton’s health is being dangerously affected by the plastics? Overall, the article is very self-explanatory, and it teaches us a lot about the unknown effects of our pollution.

    Posted by Ann | March 4, 2017, 7:10 pm
  2. What a great article. You should post that video on social media. I think most people finally get the danger of plastic bags. But microbeads is not something that has been talked about much. Who knew?

    Posted by Chris Marranzino | December 1, 2015, 1:06 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] are doing. We do know that animals like filter feeders, larval fish and even the smallest animals, zooplankton, will eat the fibers mistaking them for their favorite foods. By the laws of nature, those animals […]

  2. […] variety of important ocean species, including corals, sea turtles, humpback whales, and even tiny plankton, are consuming microplastics, with unknown consequences for marine ecosystems. Microplastics are […]

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 2 weeks 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 1 month 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 2 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 4 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 4 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 4 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 5 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 5 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 5 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 6 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 6 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 7 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 7 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 8 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 8 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 9 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 
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com