Canadian Plastics

Marine organisms contribute to spread of microplastics in water: report

A study by UK’s University of Plymouth says that by tearing apart solid plastics, marinelife actually contributes to the spread of microplastics in the marine environment.

Print this page

January 6, 2018 by Canadian Plastics

A new report by marine scientists at the University of Plymouth in the UK, marine organisms are able to tear apart a single plastic bag into 1.75 million microscopic pieces, which can add to the spread of microplastics within the marine environment.

The purpose of the study – entitled Ingestion and fragmentation of plastic carrier bags by the amphipod Orchestia gammarellus: Effects of plastic type and fouling load” – was to determine if different types of plastic and the presence of a biofilm (a layer of organic material which accumulates over time) could change the rate at which such organisms broke down plastic debris.

When introduced to biofilm, the research team said, the activity was actually found to have increased fourfold.

The research team looked at Orchestia gammarellus, a type of amphipod that grows up to about 1.8 centimeters in length. Living in a wide range of habitats such as shallow waters, the intertidal zone, and in estuaries, the amphipod can be found in Norway and Iceland, coastal waters of Europe, all the way down to southwest Africa.

When the team observed the Orchestia gammarellus shredding a plastic bag into the microscopic microplastic parts, they realized that the amphipods were contributing to the spread of microplastics within the marine environment, rather than them simply being emitted from the water supply or forming through the physical and chemical break down of larger items.

The study concluded that regardless of the type of plastic involved – conventional, degradable, or biodegradable – the Orchestia gammarellus tore the material apart with equal voracity. Biofilm, however, was torn apart four times faster.

Previous studies led by the university have shown that more than 700 species of marine life have been found to have encountered plastic debris, with clear evidence that ingestion and entanglement causes direct harm to many individuals.

For more on the study, click on this link.