How Harmful Microplastics Are Damaging Our Oceans
by Justin Dubs
Plastic pollution in our oceans is not a new issue. We have known for a long time that plastics are a major source of concern. What scientists are finding out now is a bit more alarming.
Scientists from the QUEX Institute released a new study on Microplastics. This study found that there’s a large number of microplastics in common seafood.
The scientists conducted the study at a commercial market in Australia. Prawns, crabs, squid, and sardines were among the seafood tested.
They tested the edible parts of each sea creature. Washing and rinsing each part to avoid contamination in the handling process.
They found five types of plastics in the seafood. Manufacturers use these plastics in packaging, synthetic textiles, and marine debris. Scientists believe that these plastics entered into the tested seafood in many ways, including through ingestion, handling, preparation, and packaging.
A team at Arizona State University did a separate study on microplastics. The study shows that they’re finding these microplastics inside human tissues.
They looked at samples from a variety of human organs from willing donors.
What they found was startling.
In all 47 samples, the scientists found the chemical BPA present. BPA is the leading chemical used in many plastics and resins. This chemical causes fertility issues and cancer in people who have long-term exposure.
BPA has long-term hazardous effects in the human body. Scientists are also worried about how the plastic pieces entered the human tissues.
The logical explanation would be through food consumption. The first study shows that many pieces of seafood have a measurable amount of plastics in them. It also found that about 17% of the protein consumed in the world is seafood. This would seem to account for the presence of microplastics in human tissue.
What are Microplastics
So what exactly are microplastics? They are small pieces of plastic forming from the breakdown of plastic debris in our oceans and lakes.
As you have seen when you have gone to the beach, or to the lake, there is plenty of plastic debris all along the shoreline. These plastics erode and break down into tiny fragments of microplastics.
These plastics are smaller than a sesame seed, allowing them to pass through water filtration systems. This leads to a lot of microplastic debris in our water systems.
Microplastics find their way into the water, soil, and even into animals.
They cause blockages, and even attract and hold dangerous chemicals (such as BPA and PCBs). These chemicals cause cancer and reproductive issues.
When ingested by animals or humans, they enter the digestive tract. Scientists worry that these chemicals are entering into surrounding tissues when ingested by animals or humans.
How Harmful Are Microplastics
Once the microplastics are in the environment, they cause many issues. First, they’re mistaken for food by marine animals. Many of the animals humans consume are eating these plastics.
But what effects do these particles have on the animals?
We all know the effects of the larger plastics on marine life. We have all seen the pictures of sea-turtles and birds with their heads in six-pack holders.
What we know about microplastics is that many small marine animals do in fact eat these tiny particles.
Plankton, fish larva, and filter-feeders are animals with microplastics in their bodies.
In 2008, scientist Dr. Mark Browne took a look at the blood of a blue mussel. He found tiny fragments of plastic inside the blood cells.
Another study by Dr. Browne used fluorescent microplastic particles in water. Blue Mussels were then placed in the water to see how they would filter the particles.
They were then transferred to another clean water tank for a few days. Dr. Browne found that all mussels contained plastic pieces after the clean water bath.
These experiments show how easy it is for these microplastics to enter into the food chain. Causing a chain-reaction that flows up the food chain, affecting animals and humans.
These microplastics enter the animal’s stomach, but they also can travel in the body. As Dr. Browne’s study shows the plastics can be small enough that they enter an animal’s bloodstream.
These plastics cause blockages and suppress hunger in animals by filling their stomachs. They also scratch and irritate the lining of the animal’s insides. This causes inflammation, pain, and discomfort.
What Can We Do to Remove These Microplastics
In 2019, scientists created a new nanotechnology, called nanocoils. These break down microplastics in the environment.
The nanocoils cause a reaction in the plastics. This reaction breaks down fragments into small pieces until they become safer particles. These safer particles are carbon dioxide and water.
The study shows that when the coils break down the fragments, the pieces left are smaller than a handful of atoms.
Algae in the studies show the ability to use these broken down plastics as a new food source. Scientists believe this will lead to a major growth of sea life in the oceans. This also opens the door to new uses for the tech in the future.
This is great news for the environment, but what can we do to aid in the effort to remove microplastics?
The best way to reduce microplastics is to reduce dependence on plastics in everyday use. You can start by using reusable shopping bags or reusable straws. If you order out, refuse plastic silverware.
If you find that you must use plastics, always remember to recycle!
You also have the option to get a more hands on approach. Beach and river cleanups are a great way to get involved and to remove plastics from the environment.
The Ocean Blue Project is a phenomenal tool to help you organize your own cleanup project.
Author Bio: Justin Dubs is a Pittsburgh-based writer and avid outdoorsman.