Micro-plastics pose a serious risk to marine organisms study reveals

Micro-plastic particles and micro beads that are used in industrial abrasives, numerous cosmetics, including exfoliants, whose residues are designed to washed down the drain can pose a serious threat to marine biodiversity worldwide.

These tiny particles of waste have caused concern in the scientific community because they are ingested by fish, marine mammals and reptiles, and have been found in the digestive and circulatory systems of mussels and deposit feeding lugworms.

The lowly lugworm has an important part in nature as they feed on organic material such as micro-organisms and detritus present in the sediment and they bioturbate (re-work, re-oxygenate) the sand.

These marine worms also serve as a food source for birds and fish and are used as bait by fishermen, so if lugworms ingest micro-plastics, it could mean that these particles could ultimately end up in our food chain and become a potential human health threat.

A study published in the journal Current Biology - and the first to show the risk posed by microplastics to marine organisms – found that lugworms that ingest these particles could negatively affect biodiversity as it reduces their ability to consume as much sediment impacting the surrounding ecosystem.

Co-author of the study Mark Browne, an ecologist from the US-based National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis told the BBC , "We are losing a large volume of plastic and we know it is going into the environment and the assumption being made by policymakers is that this material is non-hazardous, it has got the same ranking as scraps of food.

"The research we have done really challenges that. Our findings show that the plastic itself can be a problem and can affect organisms. Also, when particles of plastic go into the environment what you find is that they accumulate large quantities of pollutants that are banned. So you have these particles themselves but also a load of nasty chemicals."

“We’ve known for a long time now that these types of chemicals transfer into humans from packaged goods,” Browne also added.

“But for more than 40 years the bit that the scientists and policymakers didn’t have was whether or not these particles of plastic can actually transfer chemicals into wildlife and damage the health of the organism and its ability to sustain biodiversity. That’s what we really nailed with the study.”

If you are interested in preserving the marine habitat you may want to give up purchasing cosmetics, like exfoliants that contain plastics and prefer organic products and ask legislators to ban micro-plastics and micro-beads in consumer products.

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