8/23/2017 1:59:23 PM News

No longer ‘out of sight, out of mind’, almost 50% of deep sea starfish and snails affected.

Graphicalabstract Micro Plastics

Researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland sampled deep-sea starfish and sea snails from the Rockall Trough and found microscopic traces of plastic in 48 % cent of those sampled. The levels of plastic ingestion were comparable to those found in species living in shallower coastal waters.

SAMS deep sea ecologist Dr Bhavani Narayanaswamy, said: “No longer ‘out of sight, out of mind’, research into microplastics is rapidly increasing in importance. We are attempting to establish not only how widespread they are, but also how and where they accumulate in animals, and ultimately the impact that they may have on the health of humans.

Lead author on a paper published in the journal Environmental  Pollution,>>  is Winnie Courtene-Jones, a University of the Highlands and Islands PhD researcher based at SAMS.

Winnie said: “Microplastics are widespread in the natural environment and present numerous ecological threats, such as reducing reproductive success, blocking digestive tracts and transferring organic pollutants to organisms which eat them. More than 660 marine species worldwide are documented to be affected by plastics.

“There is much evidence of microplastics around coastal waters but little is known about the extent of plastic pollution in the deeper ocean.

Although scientists have previously found traces of microplastics in the deep sea, this research, is the first time microplastic ingestion in deep-sea invertebrates has been quantified.

Polyester was the most abundant plastic identified, mainly in the form of microscopic fibres, and while it is not possible to definitively know its origin, this substance is used widely in clothing and can reach the sea in waste water from washing machines.

“The deep sea is the largest, but also the least explored part of the planet and may be the final sink for plastics. 

SAMS is increasing its research into microplastics, with two new PhD students joining the team in October; one to look at microplastics in the Scottish marine environment, comparing urban and rural locations, whilst the second student will be attempting to develop airborne sensors that will detect microplastics.