Salmon, whales ingest microplastics: study

Plastic particles eaten by plankton, then other species, researchers say

Microplastics

Zooplankton in the ocean are eating microscopic plastic particles and passing those contaminants up the food chain to salmon, whales and other species at an “alarming” rate.

That’s the conclusion of a new study co-authored by Dr. Peter Ross, the top ocean pollution researcher at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Science Centre.

Zooplankton are tiny creatures that make up a major food source for juvenile salmon, as well as baleen whales.

Microplastic particles are barely visible small fragments, fibres and granules that are widespread in the ocean due to the breakdown of plastics – from both litter, ropes and other sources such as sewage effluent in major populated areas. They’re different from plastic microbeads that are deliberately used in toothpastes and exfoliants.

Ross and his colleagues estimated a juvenile salmon in the Strait of Georgia may be ingesting two to seven microplastic particles per day, and returning adult salmon are ingesting up to 91 particles per day.

A humpback whale could be ingesting more than 300,000 microplastic particles a day.

“These particles could pose a serious risk of physical harm to the marine animals that consume them, potentially blocking their gut or leaching chemicals into their bodies,” Ross said.

He said the research is the first clear evidence that species at the bottom of the food web are mistaking plastics for food and potentially posing a risk to other animals.

The findings were published in June by the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

It’s unclear yet whether microplastics in the marine food web pose a human health risk to people who consume seafood.

Exposure is thought to be lower with fish that people don’t eat whole – such as salmon – compared to shellfish such as mussels, which an earlier European study also found to contain microplastics. That study suggested the plastic fragments may also absorb and pass along persistent organic pollutants.

Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson said the findings shed new light on the threat of virtually invisible ocean contamination, as opposed to more obvious marine garbage.

“We’re now really starting to understand that plastic does break down into small pieces and just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not having a potentially incredible and negative impact on the marine environment,” she said. “It demonstrates how badly we’ve been treating the oceans as a garbage dump and it’s really coming back to haunt us.”

Wilhelmson said the growing prevalence of plastic microfibres offshore is reversing the thinking on some practices once thought to be green.

“We recycle plastics to make fleece jackets but now we’re realizing those fleece jackets are breaking down in our laundry and those fibres are not being trapped by sewage treatment and that ends up in the ocean being part of the pollution.”

Ross joined the Vancouver Aquarium last year after the federal government in 2012 shut down his marine toxicology program within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He was one of dozens of scientists terminated with the elimination of the national contaminants research program.

Ross had testified in 2011 at the Cohen Inquiry into declining sockeye numbers that toxins flushed down Metro Vancouver sewers were likely a contributing factor.

Diagram of two zooplankton species and ingested particles.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

Lost a ring? This White Rock man will find it for you

Chris Turner founded The Ring Finders, an international directory of metal detector hobbyists

PHOTOS: Family Day celebrated at Historic Stewart Farm

Youngsters participate in some old fashioned fun

Clayton’s little neighbourhood libraries are open for business

’Take a book, leave a book’ initiative aims to bring Clayton residents closer together

Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigns amid SNC-Lavalin furor

Butts categorically denies the accusation that he or anyone else in the PMO improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould

VIDEO: Winterhawks end Giants winning streak at seven

Playing on home ice, Vancouver’s G-Men fell 5-3 during a Family Day game against Portland.

Aaron Pritchett and George Canyon to headline Gone Country concert in Cloverdale this summer

‘Early bird tickets on sale via Twins Cancer Fundraising website

Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

Funding allocation expected to be released with 2019 budget

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for public inquiry over SNC-Lavalin questions

Vancouver member of Parliament Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last week

Canadian airlines waiting for guidance from Ottawa over X gender option

Major U.S. airlines said they will change their process so passengers can identify themselves along non-binary lines

UPDATE: Plane flips over at Pitt Meadows airport

The pilot and lone occupant exited the aircraft on his own and uninjured.

Moose Hide campaign takes message to Canadian schools

Campaign launches new K-12 education platform

Most Read