Plankton Eat Plastic And So Does The Rest Of The Food Chain, Humans Included

Sure, humans are at the top of the food chain, but whatever we consume has to have something even the ones at the bottom took in.

For instance, humans eat fish and other sea creatures. Fish and other sea creatures eat, say, planktons. Planktons eat algae and... plastic?

Our plastic wastes can be recycled, but feeding them to planktons is definitely not a way to do it. A group of biologists teamed up with filmmakers to capture how planktons ingest plastic dumped into the waters, and find out what happens to the tiny creatures after.

Verity White, director of the six-minute short Ren Kyst - Got a Spare Afternoon? from Five Films, said they were looking at just one drop of water and they saw that the zooplanktons were swimming and processing food nonstop. In some of the planktons they shot, plastic just passes through the copepods, while in others, plastic could last inside their intestinal tracts for up to seven days.

White further explained that the short film was part of a bigger project that emphasized the impact of plastic litter in the oceans. 

Meanwhile, scientists from the Marine Laboratory conducted a study to observe 13 zooplanktons that had ingested polystyrene beads varying in sizes.

According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Matthew Cole, previous studies have overlooked the impact of microplastics on these tiny creatures.

Every year, plastic is dumped into the ocean and is accumulated to about 8 million tons. Much of it comes from fishing nets, plastic bags and bottles, buoys polyester fabrics and additives in cosmetics. Particles from these plastic litters, Cole and his team observed, are consumed by zooplankton, including the larvae of crabs and oysters.

White and her team used seven to 30-micrometer fluorescent polystyrene beads to surround the zooplankton with and saw that the zooplankton used their legs to draw the plastic towards hem. Normally, the zooplankton use touch and chemical receptors by applying current through their legs to draw algae for feeding. In this case, even the plastic has attracted the tiny copepods.

The consumption of plastic by zooplankton causes a reduced rate in which they can consume real food, thus affecting their survival and reproductive characteristics. To add to that, the microplastics that make their way into the plankton's digestive tract can further make its way up the food chain.

Findings of Dr. Cole and his team's study are published in the online journal Environmental Science and Technology. The short film Ren Kyst, which is actually norweigian for "clean coast," won the Environmental Film of the Year award at the Environmental Photographer of the year last month at the Royal Geographical Society.

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