Microplastics have been one of the most talked about topics when it comes to environmental pollution and now evidence has suggested that these small microfibers that find their way into oceans and seas are being ingested by deep-sea animals – something that in the long run could prove detrimental to their health.
Researchers at University of Bristol and Oxford have found evidence for the first time that microbeads have been ingested by deep-sea animals at depths of up to 1800m. This is for the first time that evidence of microplastics, which are released through household wastewater, have been found at such great depths in mid-Atlantic and south-west Indian Ocean.
In scientific terms, microplastics are all those small particles of plastic under the size of 5mm (length) including microfibres, microbeads, among others. Government in the UK has already announced a ban on the use of microbeads by the end of 2017. As such measures are yet to be imposed in almost all countries around the world, microplastic pollution isn’t going to go away for a long time. In the light of this, studies like the current one are of high importance as they reveal the extent of the dangers of microplastics and how deep have they penetrated our ecosystem.
The study published in journal Scientific Reports found that polyester, nylon and acrylic plastics were found inside deep-sea animals. Microplastics are roughly the same size as ‘marine snow’ – the shower of organic material that falls from upper waters to the deep ocean and which many deep-sea creatures feed on. With ample use of microplastics over the years, it is almost inevitable that they would have ended up on coastal areas. However, in this case, the microplastics were found in sediments on deep seas and oceans floors.
“What’s particularly alarming is that these microplastics weren’t found in coastal areas but in the deep ocean, thousands of miles away from land-based sources of pollution”, said Dr Michelle Taylor of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, and lead author of the study.
Because they remain on the ocean and sea floor as sediments, marine animals mistake them as food and ingest them. Scientists are actively looking into the dangers of microplastics on marine ecosystems and have already found evidence of how microbeads threaten fish larvae, how they causes inflammation in some marine animals that could eventually kill them, among others.