Thursday, December 5, 2013

Microplastics make marine worms sick

A press release from the University of Exeter: Tiny bits of plastic rubbish could spell big trouble for marine life, starting with the worms, say a team of researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth University who report their evidence in a pair of studies in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on December 2.

The marine worms play a key ecological role as an important source of food for other animals. Work by Stephanie Wright from Biosciences at the University of Exeter found that if ocean sediments are heavily contaminated with microplastics, marine lugworms eat less and their energy levels suffer. A separate report, from Mark Anthony Browne on work performed at Plymouth University, shows that ingesting microplastic can also reduce the health of lugworms by delivering harmful chemicals, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials and flame retardants to them.

“We believe our study has highlighted the need to reduce the amount of plastic waste and therefore microplastics which enter our seas,” says Professor Tamara Galloway of Biosciences at the University of Exeter. “Plastics are enormously beneficial materials. However, if marine plastic pollution continues to increase, impacts such as those demonstrated in our laboratory studies could occur in the natural environment. It is therefore important that we prevent the accumulation of plastic and microplastic debris in marine habitats through better waste-handling practices and smarter choices in the materials we use.”

In addition to their role in the food chain, “lugworms also feed on and churn the organic content in sediments, much as earthworms in the soil do,” Wright explains. “If worms in contaminated environments were to reduce feeding levels by an amount comparable to that seen in the lab, it would mean significantly less turnover of sediment. In an area the size of the Wadden Sea, for instance, sediment turnover could drop by more than 130,000 litres each year.”...

Microplastic spherules in tooth paste, about 30 ┬Ám in diameter, shot by Dantor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

No comments: