Study reveals harm to fish from tiny bit of plastic pollution
Scientists have shown for the first time the damage to fish from tiny pieces of plastic pollution clogging the world’s oceans.
Laboratory experiments with European perch larvae showed exposure to microplastic particles at levels present in seas inhibited hatching of fertilised eggs, stunted larval growth, reduced activity levels, and made them more susceptible to predators, increasing mortality rates, researchers said.
“For me, the key finding and biggest surprise in this study was that larvae preferentially ate microplastic particles and stuffed themselves with microbeads [and ignored their natural food source, zoo-plankton],” said Oona Lonnstedt, a marine biologist at Uppsala
University in Sweden. She said there was increasing concern among scientists about the effect of pervasive plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.
This study [published in the journal Science] was the first to examine the direct effects of microplastic particles on fish development.
Microplastic particles measuring no more than 5mm come from large plastic waste that has fragmented into smaller pieces or from manufactured plastics of microscopic size, such as microbeads in products such as facial soap and toothpaste.
The European perch is an important commercial fish species for coastal and lake fisheries and is also popular for recreational fishing, said Peter Eklov, an Uppsala professor of limnology, the study of inland waters.
Perch larvae exposed to microplastic particles lost their ability to use typical perch -anti-predator behaviour such as freezing in place, he said.
“Microplastics actually seem to interfere with an animal’s natural behaviours, such as feeding choices, activity rates and predator-avoidance strategies,” Dr Lonnstedt said.
“This is a serious cause for concern, in particular since microplastic particles often accumulate in shallow coastal areas where many developmental stages of aquatic organisms, not just fish, can be found.”
Since the study, the researchers have conducted similar experiments with other fish, and all showed responses to microplastic particles very similar to those shown by the perch.