Fish in the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000- to 24,000 tons per year, according to researchers from the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX).
That’s news that should give all of us a bellyache.
Peter Davison and Rebecca Asch, two graduate students from SEAPLEX, traveled more than more than 1,000 miles west of California to the eastern sector of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre on the Scripps research vessel New Horizon, says Science Daily. They collected numerous samples of fish specimens, water samples and marine debris at both surface level and thousands of feet below the surface.
Of the 141 fishes spanning 27 species dissected in the study, Davison and Asch found that 9.2 percent of the stomach contents of mid-water fishes contained plastic debris, primarily broken-down bits smaller than a human fingernail. The researchers say the majority of the stomach plastic pieces were so small their origin could not be determined.
“About nine percent of examined fishes contained plastic in their stomach. That is an underestimate of the true ingestion rate because a fish may regurgitate or pass a plastic item, or even die from eating it. We didn’t measure those rates, so our nine percent figure is too low by an unknown amount,” said Davison.
You can see photos of the SEAPLEX expedition via Flickr. To get an idea of what the plastic bits found in the fishes’ stomachs look like, here’s a photo of the hundreds of shards of plastic found in the stomach of a sea turtle off the coast of Argentina.
The study was published in Marine Ecology Progress Series.
The SEAPLEX team mostly studied lanternfish, who have luminescent tissue; they play a key role in the food chain as they connect plankton with higher levels. As Asch notes, “We have estimated the incidence at which plastic is entering the food chain and I think there are potential impacts, but what those impacts are will take more research.”
The SEAPLEX researchers were specifically focusing on plastic ingestion and studying such effects as the “toxicological impacts on fish and composition of the plastic” were not part of the study, but would certainly be areas of study to pursue, especially as far the effects of plastic pollution on both fish and the ocean. Who knows what the fish we sit down to eat have themselves ingested?
More about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” the ocean has become in the video below.
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Photo of tangled fishing line and other ocean debris — with octopus hooks, mollusks, crustaceans and other organisms — found on Pacifica beach by ingridtaylar.