We know that plastic waste is a hazard for sealife. But a study has proven that it hits closer to home than you think: it affects you, too!
Concerns for Humans
Researchers in the U.K. found that plastic waste ingested by sea life can be passed to animals who eat the prey. (Spoiler alert: humans are animals too.)
Plastic wears down and breaks apart into small pieces, called microplastic. Many marine animals mistake microplastic for food. Researchers recently studied the scat of captive grey seals at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, Cornwall.
They found that plastic in the Atlantic mackerel eaten by seals went through the seals’ digestive system. This is the first study to prove that digested plastic is transferred from fish to a marine mammal predator.
According to Sarah Nelms, the lead researcher on the study, the chemicals on plastic can cause a big issue for the animals who ingest the plastic. “Some of the chemicals are known to cause disruption to the immune system and important hormones,” Nelms explained.
The plastic transfer can also have a financial implication. “If microplastics lead to a decline in the survival and reproduction of commercial fish species, it may have economic and social implications for people whose livelihoods depend on them,” Nelms said.
The study suggests that anyone eating prey that swallowed plastic will ingest that plastic. There are implications on human consumption of sea life, like fish and lobster. Nelms explains, “it is possible that microplastics pass through the wall of the digestive tract and enter the edible tissue of the fish.”
So, the next time you order seafood, you might be getting more than you bargained for.
Nelms, S.E., et al., Investigating microplastic trophic transfer in marine top predators, Environmental Pollution (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2018.02.016