Media New Atlas reported that large quantities of plastic are dumped into the ocean every day, and it is not clear how much plastic causes damage. A team of scientists at Duke University, hoping to fill those gaps, found that fish with high levels of microplastic fiber in their bodies may experience significant changes in the respiratory and reproductive systems.
Study author Melissa Chernick said: “Plastic pollution is an environmental threat that poses an increasing risk to species and ecosystems around the world. Until now, most studies have focused on finding plastic in animals without determining the effects on tissues. But that’s where our research shows. “
Many of the ultrafine plastic fibers that end up entering the marine environment come from laundries, and the synthetic garments we wash are discharged into the ocean through wastewater treatment facilities. Study author David E. Hinton said: “Even if they are released a few miles from the ocean, they can work down there.” As a result, they affect freshwater and marine life. “
To find out what this means for marine life, the team conducted an experiment involving 27 breeding pairs of Japanese herring, which were placed in a tank for 21 days and surrounded by high levels of microplastic fibers. Throughout this time, the team monitored how much fiber was consumed and excreted by the fish, the weight of the fish and the amount of spawning.
The researchers found that the fish continued to experience aneurysms and higher levels of mucus production in their cheeks. The team also observed profound changes in epithelial cells around the gills and evidence that chemical coatings in plastics are entering the bloodstream. Although the researchers did not fully understand all these different chemicals, they found evidence of a harmful effect. Female fish exposed to polypropylene, a common plastic used in synthetic clothing, produce more eggs, a chemical the team believes could damage the fish’s endocrine system.
“There’s been a lot of dramatic changes,” Mr Chenik said. Each change affects breathing. If you’re a wild fish with severe gills and are in low oxygen or being chased by an animal predator, you’ll get into trouble. The same is true if you are competing with other fish for food. These damagealone alone can make you less competitive. “
The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.