Scientists find tiny fragments of plastic in the digestive systems of fish pulled from the English Channel

Jan 21, 2013 by Alex Peel
Plastic found in British fish

The discovery, by a team from Plymouth University and the UK Marine Biological Association, highlights the growing problem of plastic contamination of marine environments.

Of 504 fish examined, more than a third was found to contain small pieces of plastic less than one millimetre in size, referred to by scientists as microplastics.

'We have previously shown that on shorelines worldwide and on the and in the around the UK, these tiny fragments of plastic are widespread,' says Professor Richard Thompson.

'Our recent reseach has shown that such fragments are also being ingested by fish. Laboratory studies on mussels have shown that some organisms can retain plastic after ingestion, hence microplastic debris could also accumulate in .'

This, say researchers, could carry serious physical consequences for fish, creating blockages in their digestive systems or giving them a false sense of being full.

It could also make it easier for pollutants in surrounding waters to make their way into organisms, as chemicals latch on to the plastic fragments.

The study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, looked at fish caught ten kilometres off the coast of Plymouth.

But scientists have been finding plastics in increasingly remote places. A recent voyage to the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica found the once-pristine waters littered with plastics from far-flung places.

This debris comes from a number of sources. Some of the fragments come directly from personal care products, such as face scrubs and exfoliators, which contain microplastics as abrasives. Others form from the break-down of larger items such as bags and bottles.

But Thompson is optimistic that, with the right measures, is a problem that can be tackled without sacrificing the many benefits which come from the use of plastics in the 21st century.

'We don't need to have in the sea. These materials are inherently very recyclable, but regrettably they've been at the heart of our throw-away culture for the last few decades.'

Earlier this month, Unilever announced that they are to cut plastic 'microbeads' from all of their by 2015. And Thompson believes that, with actions such as this, industry has an important role to play.

'We need to recognise the value of plastics at the end of their lives and need help from industry and manufacturers to widen the potential for every day products to be reusable and recyclable,' he adds.

Explore further: GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

More information: Lusher, A., McHugh M., and Thompson, R. Occurrence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of pelagic and demersel fish from the English Channel, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2012

Related Stories

Microplastics endanger ocean health

May 17, 2012

Tiny pieces of plastic contaminate almost every sea in the world. Now scientists have found that marine creatures like fish and birds are eating this microscopic waste, which may be harming their health.

Microbial answer to plastic pollution?

Mar 28, 2010

Fragments of plastic in the ocean are not just unsightly but potentially lethal to marine life. Coastal microbes may offer a smart solution to clean up plastic contamination, according to Jesse Harrison presenting ...

Ingestion of plastic found among small ocean fish

Mar 11, 2011

Southern California researchers have found evidence of ingestion of plastic among small fish in the northern Pacific Ocean in a study that they say shows the troubling effect floating litter is having on marine life in the ...

Unilever to phase out 'microplastics' by 2015

Dec 28, 2012

(AP)—Unilever, the maker of Vaseline, Axe deodorants and Dove soaps, among other cosmetic and hygiene products, says it will phase out the use of microplastics by 2015.

Recommended for you

'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

5 hours ago

Nepal's success in turning tiger-fearing villagers into their protectors has seen none of the endangered cats killed for almost three years, offering key lessons for an anti-poaching summit opening in Kathmandu ...

GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

Jan 31, 2015

A British company's plan to unleash hordes of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida to reduce the threat of dengue fever and other diseases has sparked an outcry from fearful residents.

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

Jan 30, 2015

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

Researchers develop new potato cultivar

Jan 30, 2015

Dakota Ruby is the name of a new potato cultivar developed by the NDSU potato breeding project and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Dakota Ruby has bright red skin, stores well and is intended ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.