What effects do microplastics have on the food chain?

Published on: 23 September 2015

When it comes to plastic waste in the ocean, how much is too much? Professor Tamara Galloway has been researching the effects of microplastics on marine wildlife and how ingestion of these objects by some of the smallest creatures in the ocean can have implications for the rest of the food chain.

Professor Galloway, Professor of Ecotoxicology in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences spoke at the 2015 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) Plenary about how the increase of ‘throwaway culture’ has led to vast floating islands of plastic waste. The amount of microplastic found off the North West American coast has doubled in 10 years and over 30 billion plastic bottles are discarded to landfill each year, in Europe alone.

Work by the Environmental Biology research group has helped to establish that plastics floating at the sea surface and marine sediments can be ingested by creatures such as lugworms, phytoplankton and zooplankton, which are at the bottom of the food chain; these plastics may not only have a negative impact on these creatures but also on any creatures which prey on them.

Dr Matthew Cole, a NERC Associate Research Fellow and member of the research team has been studying the impact of microplastics on Zooplankton. He showed that the microscopic plastic debris was being readily ingested by organisms which then became the food of many marine animals, raising the question whether the microplastics are passed on up the food chain.

The team’s research is helping to inform policy on marine litter control.

You can find out more in this BBC new story.

The ASLO Plenary was part of the Aquatic Sciences Meeting which took place in Granada in February 2015.

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