New study in marine pollution proves problem worse than we thought
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
A new study published on February 16 in the online journal Frontiers in Marine Science claims that the microplastics problem that environmentalists have been warning us about for the last 10 or so years is far worse than anyone could have imagined—especially for Canada.
The study, Frequency of Microplastics in Mesopelagic Fishes from the Northwest Atlantic, combines the research efforts of 8 different marine scientists from around the world, and claims that over 73 per cent of mesopelagic fish in the Northwest Atlantic contain microplastics. This is a steep increase compared to previous findings that claimed that it was closer to 11 per cent in the North Atlantic and 35 per cent in the northern Pacific Ocean.
Mesopelagic fish are not typically consumed by humans, but they are a food source for various other fish that are, as well as several marine species that are vital to the marine ecosystem. The reason why these findings are so concerning is that the microplastic fragments can absorb chemical pollutants, creating a toxicity within the fish itself. This toxicity can then transfer to any predator that consumes the fish, which can then indirectly contaminate various seafood meant for human consumption. The microplastic issue could also cause a global population drop in mesopelagic fish. As more and more fish are affected, the inflammation caused by the microplastics will result in reduced feeding, weight loss, and eventual starvation.
One of the possibilities for the number differential between previous studies and this one is the inclusion of plastic fibres used in textiles. Previous studies have eliminated the fibres on the grounds of possible contamination from the lab space where the research was done. However, careful consideration of this, and extensive examination of the filters used within their labs ensure that no contagion from the space occurred. According to the study, “As we did not observe any fibres on the filters used as blanks, we argue that fibres do indeed make up a large proportion of microplastics and are not of airborne nature.” Essentially this means that the majority of the fibres found within the fish they examined existed in their systems prior to the fish being caught and examined forensically. The study goes on to say that the amount of plastic fibres present in their samples is most likely due to North America’s dependence on washing machines, as well as our fashion industry’s use of synthetic fabrics. The existence of these fibres is found far less in more under-developed countries where handwashing clothing and natural fabrics are more common.
The microplastics issue has been on the global radar for some time now, and has prompted many countries to work towards a complete ban of them by 2020. Perhaps these latest findings will push Canada closer to making that a reality. If you would like to read the study for yourself, it is available online for free at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00039/full