Plastic is one of the biggest concerns for the health of the ocean. Once into the ocean, the plastic can take thousands of years to completely break down. What does happen much more quickly though is that the force of the ocean breaks plastic into small pieces, creating millions of small plastic fragments that can cause potential harm to wildlife.
Recent research published in Frontiers in Marine Science, found that 73 percent of the Northwest Atlantic deep-sea fish are also eating the plastic fragments. This is the highest reported frequency of plastic-eating fish ever.
The team of researchers from the National University of Ireland in Galway was able to figure this out by using trawls 1,970 feet below the surface. They examined more than 230 dead deep-water fish including the smallest lanternfish (1.4 inches) to the largest sawpalate fish (23 inches).
Fish were inspected for micro plastics in their stomach. One very small laternfish had 13 micro plastics found inside. The fish are not able to digest the plastic and eventually blocks the digestive system.
The deep water fish swim up to the surface of the water to feed, where they mistake the plastic for food. Most of the plastics find their way to the sea through drainage systems, where they float atop the surface of the ocean.
“Deep-water fish migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton and this is likely when they are exposed to the micro plastics,” said lead author Alina Wieczorek in a statement.
Plastics mostly came from blue and black microfibers found in synthetic materials like rayon, polyester, and nylon.
The study was part of a bigger investigation into how micro plastics impact key European marine species and ecosystems.
As evidence mounts to the damage plastic is causing our oceans, concern grows much higher. Plastic has already been found to be a direct contributor to coral diseases and can be found in the far reaches of the polar ice caps.
The good news is that you can immediately start making a difference in preventing plastic waste by making everyday decisions. Whether it’s a straw or plastic grocery bag, start by saying no to plastic.