"Marine debris is everywhere; it's on the surface of the ocean, it's on our beaches, and its presence is increasing. We're seeing more [marine debris] in our oceans now than in the past. The thing that is most disturbing to me is the not the 'macrodebris' that we can easily see with our eyes; it's the ubiquity of microplastics that has completely blown me away. Microfibers and microplastics can displace critters' natural food and natural behavior. The critter may need to work more and use more energy; it may block their intestinal tracts," said marine expert Sean Anderson.
"Trash in the ocean, including significant amounts of microplastics, is a pervasive and significant problem in the waters off California as well as around the world. Microplastics are particularly concerning because of their ubiquitous distribution and disastrous impacts on marine life. [Micro plastics] act like a sponge, soaking up additional pollutants from the surrounding waters, only to leach them back out again, oftentimes into animals that have ingested the plastics. This leads to accumulation of toxic chemicals in marine life, even in situations where the animals are far from humans," marine researcher Krista Kamer said in ScienceDaily.com.
In order to study the effects of microplastics on marine life, Anderson and his team examined digestive systems of multiple crab species along California's coast. The researchers found that a majority of the species ingested microplastic fragments. In fact, one organism even showed nearly 100 fragments of microplastics in its system. However, the marine experts stressed that more studies are needed to better determine the effects and reach of microplastic pollution.
Data from the United Nations (U.N.) Environment Project report revealed that more than a quarter of all fish sold around the world were contaminated with microplastics. To carry out the research, a team of researchers examined intestine samples from fish sold at markets in California and Indonesia. The researchers cautioned that consuming high quantities of marine food contaminated with microplastics may cause adverse medical conditions in humans.
The report also warned that people might be breathing in microplastics suspended in the air, which in turn may lead harmful effects similar to car fumes. According to the report, several areas around the world show higher levels of microplastic pollution. East Asia, for instance, was found to have 27 times more plastic particles in the oceans compared with other parts of the world. The report also noted that microplastic pollution may even affect significantly far places such as deep sea sediments and a Mongolian mountain lake. The report was presented last year at the U.N. Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.