Plastic waste in the oceans limits the ability of plankton to breed, and could contribute to global fish population declines, James Cook University researchers have discovered.
Dr Lynne van Herwerden led a team that fed plastics to plankton. She said the findings were disturbing.
“We gave some plankton microplastics, and gave others plasticiser, which is a solvent added to resin to make it plastic,” Dr van Herwerden said.
“When discarded plastic at sea degrades, and is accidentally eaten by animals, it releases the plasticiser.”
The team found that the plankton that was fed plasticiser had markedly reduced breeding success.
Three generations of plankton offspring which were not fed plasticiser also bred at reduced rates.
Any reduction in plankton numbers could reduce survival of larval fish and eventually reduce the numbers of adult fish, including commercially caught fish.
Dr van Herwerden said if plastic waste could get into the tissues of marine animals it would be an issue further up the food chain too.
“We remove the gut before eating fish, but if the plastic has migrated to the tissues of the fish then we’re consuming that,” said Dr van Herwerden.
“It’s important that we do further investigations regarding the impact of plasticisers (and other chemical pollutants on or in plastics) on species from the base of the food web so we can better understand the environmental impact of plastic pollution.”
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