Seafood with a side of plastic

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!

turtlering

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.)

Microplastic Digestion
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.

Chemical Concerns
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.

Financial Impact
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.

Plastic Transfer
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

 

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Caring for Endangered Species Locally

The Endangered Species Act is under debate this year. Some members of Congress are trying to weaken or eliminate the bill. They hope to allow expansion in protected habitats in order to allow activities like development and oil mining. Caring for and protecting wildlife is more important than ever before.

The staff and volunteers at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, (thecenterforwildlife.org) are doing their best to make sure animals don’t ever need a list. They have been doing their part for animal conservation in their small piece of the world for over 30 years. They give medical care to hurt or sick animals, rehabilitate them, and hopefully, release them back into the wild.

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Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle/Bing Images

Unfortunately, many of the animals they see are there because of humans. The top reasons for injury or disease include animals hit by a car, tangled in fishing wire, and sick due to pollution.  The center treats over 1,500 animals each year throughout New England.

The biggest environmental concerns, according to Kristen Lamb, Executive Director at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine, are land development and climate change. “They are both altering our habitats, waterways, and landscapes in a way that our wildlife and ecosystems have never had to contend with. It is also happening at a rapid pace. We have admitted over 40,000 injured and orphaned wild animals since our inception, and we are only one facility.”

Lamb is concerned with the animals as individuals as well as how they affect the balance of the world in which they live. “On an ecosystem level each species plays an important role in the balance of their habitats. And each breeding member of a threatened or endangered population that returns to the wild can have a critical impact on the survival of their species locally.”

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Endangered Piping Plover/Bing Images

Education is an important part of the work the staff do. They educate the public on the different types of animals, threats to wildlife, and things people can do to help keep the animals safe. The staff also collect data from the information they gather while treating and rehabilitating the animals. They utilize that data to inform people of current issues and concerns about wildlife.

In fact, the Center for Wildlife is one of less than 100 organizations in the world that systematically collect data and input it into a database. WILD-One stands for Wildlife Incident Log/Database and Online Network. It is an online database for wildlife and conservation professionals to collectively track and share data in one place.

As seen on the center’s research page, the data they have collected is useful in many applications. It has helped staff understand nesting behavior, offered evidence of environmental concerns in pest control chemicals, and shown evidence of medication concerns in specific species.

When asked what species she is most concerned about currently, Lamb answered definitively. “Many of the bat and turtle species we work with are critically endangered. We have lost over 6 million bats to White Nosed Syndrome in our country since 2007. As bats play an imperative role mitigating insect populations that pose a threat to agriculture, or human or economic health, we should all be concerned.”