The New Way Microplastics Are Devastating Marine Life

Did you know that the soap you use to wash
your face may actually alter the density of krill poop? It’s actually a big deal. Hi guys, Lissette here for Dnews. You may
already be familiar with how plastic in the ocean is killing wildlife, but it’s more
than just plastic soda rings strangling seabirds and fish. The impact of plastic goes far beyond
just what we can immediately see – especially because of tiny bits of plastic that end up
in the ocean, called microplastics. They’re having a ton of secondary effects and unexpected
consequences. Though there is no standard definition, microplastics
are generally defined as smaller than 5 mm. In the ocean, these come from larger pieces
of plastic that have degraded over time or straight from our products – like the small
plastic beads in our body wash and the plastic fibers in our clothes. A recent study published in the journal Environmental
Science and Technology, found plastics could be changing food dispersion! Researchers found
that zooplankton – which are small marine animals like krill and copepods – eat microplastics.
Not good. Because once the tiny sea creatures eat these plastic bits, they then excrete
them in their fecal pellets – yeah poop. The thing is, this plastic makes their feces weigh
less so it sinks much more slowly…. And the fact that they’re sinking more slowly
means there’s also more time for other animals to eat these pellets, marine animals like
turtles, fish and birds.. Without the plastic, the feces would sink faster, getting to the
bottom of the ocean where it would be consumed by coprophagous bottom dwellers. But, now
all of a sudden, it is being consumed by a new group of marine life. Which is a big problem.
First, because the plastics themselves contain toxic chemicals. And second, because plastics
absorb toxins from the surrounding water – this makes their toxicity many times greater than
the surrounding water itself. So, when marine animals eat the plastic poop
pellets, it could be deadly. The microplastics contain chemicals – like BPA and Phthalates
and when consumed can cause organ damage, genetic mutations, reproductive issues, developmental
abnormalities and disrupt hormone systems. In their study, Rochman and colleagues found
that exposure to polyethylene microplastics for two months led to liver stress and altered
gene expression in japanese medaka fish (Oryzias latipes). In another study, which was published
in the journal Environmental Pollution, scientists found that goby fish, that were exposed to
microplastics, readily confused them for food, which in turn decreased the amount of real
food they ate. Again, not good. And multiple studies on mollusks, have found that BPA leads
to endocrine disruption that causes mollusks to have additional female organs, engrossed
sex glands, and even higher mortality. Basically, microplastics can really make some
marine life sick. And because we eat these fish, they may end up making us sick too – as
was suggested by the United Nations Environment Programme through their call to ban microplastics
from cosmetics. However, research on the impact of microplastics in humans is currently limited. But, with more than five trillion bits of
plastic currently in the ocean that reaches concentrations of up to 100,000 particles
per cubic meter and more being pumped into our environment, it definitely warrants more
research. Especially given that one tiny plastic bead that came from a soap can be cycled through
multiple fish and fish poo back to fish and on to us to repeat the cycle all over again. But this is just one of the many stories you
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