New scientific research has confirmed fears of the global impacts of marine plastic pollution to marine life and marine ecosystems. Plastic does adsorb toxic PCBs, PBDEs and PAHs* from seawater and does transfer toxicity from adsorbed chemicals to fish that ingest them, found a new study published in Nature yesterday. Experimental fish were fed a “clean” diet, a diet with bits of virgin plastic, or a diet with bits of plastic that had adsorbed contaminants while suspended in a marine environment near San Diego, California. Toxicologists then dissected the fish and determined that there was a significant transfer of PBDEs to the fish tissue from the plastic that had adsorbed marine contaminants, and that the livers of some fish developed cellular damage. This controlled experiment confirmed the discussions I have been leading for years on the potential eco-toxic impacts of marine plastic pollution to young, endangered sea turtles.
Plastic can be a vector for increased pollutant exposure to fish, and likely sea turtles and other marine wildlife, but how bad is the overall contamination of plastic in the Pacific Ocean?
According to researchers in Japan, chemical plastic pollution has permeated into seawater and beach sand across the Pacific Ocean Basin. These researchers analyzed raw seawater and sand samples, they did not go hunting for plastic. The natural environment across the Pacific Basin has detectible plastic pollution at the microscopic level, and these small particles and molecular compounds are much more bio-available to organisms than large marine debris we remove during beach cleanups.
So what are we to do about all this toxic plastic?
The problem starts when individual consumers and industry engineers choose plastic products and drive their creation! If behaviors change, plastic production can decrease. Once a plastic bottle or shipping container is created, it must be recovered and properly re-captured so that it’s end-of-life is not litter in the environment or landfill. When plastic is litter there is no evidence it ever “goes away,” in fact, the new research proves that when it breaks down to small pieces it results in global contamination and poisoning of wildlife. Solving the problem of marine plastic pollution will take a global sea change in the behaviors of industry and individuals, and can be driven by public resource trust laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act in the US.
Endangered sea turtles around the world are being killed by industrial fishing, poached and murdered on nesting beaches, and are under serious stress from marine plastic pollution and other major impacts to their essential habitats.
Taking action to save sea turtles means changing your behavior! Stop supporting industrial fishing, join an ecotour to help support beach protections, and stop using disposable plastic and supporting the business that do.
*PCBs - Polychlorinated Biphenyls; PBDEs - Polybrominated diphenyl ethers; PAHs – Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Rochman, C.M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T. & Teh, S.J. Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Sci. Rep. 3, 3263; DOI:10.1038/srep03263 (2013).
K. Saido, 1.6 - Ocean Contamination Generated from Plastics, In Comprehensive Water Quality and Purification, edited by Satinder Ahuja, Elsevier, Waltham, 2014, Pages 86-97, ISBN 9780123821836, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-382182-9.00005-0. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123821829000050)