While we know that a lot of plastic waste is piling up in the ocean, what we don’t know is where it ends up and what this means to the marine ecosystem,media New Atlas reported. After studying the digestive contents of thousands of animals, scientists at Cardiff University have proposed a way to predict the size of the maximum plastic block that different organisms can consume, which could inform different types of waste about the risks to global species.
While the impact of plastic waste on marine animals is unclear, scientists in the field are still finding out more about why they ingest edited and the risks they may pose. For example, a 2016 study found that seabirds devour plastic because it smells like dinner. Meanwhile, a paper published earlier this month found that microplastics can cause aneurysms and reproductive changes in fish.
The new study, carried out by scientists at Cardiff University’s Water Research Institute, fills more gaps. Using available public data, the researchers examined the digestive contents of more than 2,000 mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, ranging from 9 mm (0.35 inches) long fish to humpback whales 10 meters (33 feet) long.
This allows them to discover the relationship between the size of the animals and the maximum plastic waste they may consume, which are calculated to be about 20:1. The plastic samples studied included a variety of materials, from hoses that had been ingested by sperm whales to plastic bags in green turtles, but overall the maximum fragments an animal could eat were about 5 percent of its size.
Project leader Professor Isabel Durance said: “We all see painful and often heartbreaking images of plastic-affected animals, but we have never seen more interaction between animals and plastics. This study provides us with a new way to visualize many unseen events. Although we are increasingly aware of the highest concentrations of plastics in the world’s aquatic ecosystems, it is only through this work that we can know which animals may be at risk from ingesting plastics. “
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.