After years of careless practices of plastic use, plastic has taken over our oceans, threatening millions of marine animals. Although, plastic can be found in every part of our ocean, there is still little we know how it directly impacts marine life and scientists are now rushing to figure that out.
A species that is easily overlooked do to its size but is a major player in the ocean’s ecosystem, the krill, are able to digest microplastics into smaller fragments.
The finding may seem like a positive step in the ocean naturally battling plastic but they are actually making it much easier for other organisms to consume and spread plastic.
The study was conducted by Australia’s Griffith University, where they are studying whether microbeads had a toxic effect on krill in a laboratory setting. The team kept groups of krill in separate aquariums and fed the animals a mix of either 80 percent algae and 20 percent microplastics or 20 percent algae and 80 percent microplastics. The goal was to see how the different concentrations of plastic in their diet impacted the krill.
The findings surprised the researchers as the krill were not only ingesting the plastic, but actually breaking it up into smaller parts before excreting it. The research was carried out on “fresh plastic” that was 31.5 microns in diameter. When the krill had finished with breaking down the plastic, they turned them into fragments of less than one micron. The researchers also believed that because they were using “fresh plastic”, the krill would be able break down the plastic in the wild even more due to it already been degraded by UV light.
The findings concern many as the amount of plastic in the ocean does not change after going through the process. It just means that it’s being shredded into ever finer pieces and becoming more pervasive.
“This reveals a previously unidentified dynamic in the plastic pollution threat, with the implication that biological fragmentation of microplastics to nanoplastics is likely widespread within most ecosystems,’’ explains Bengtson Nash, co-author of the latest study in Nature Communications, in a statement.
The only way to solve the problem is to stop plastic pollution and clean up what we have put into our environment. Our society is addicted to plastic use and we have a large hole that we need to climb out of. Some cities and even countries are working towards reducing or banning single use plastics but to make a change that will prevent all pollution; we need the bans to be on a much bigger scale.