Waste plastics damaging sea life, says university study


December 9, 2013

Ocean-borne plastic waste could “spell big trouble” for marine worms, according to researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth University who reported their evidence in the Cell Press journal “Current Biology.”

Work by Stephanie Wright, a post-graduate researcher in biosciences at the University of Exeter, found that if ocean sediments are heavily contaminated with microplastics, marine lugworms eat less and their energy levels suffer.

A separate report, from Mark Anthony Browne on work performed at Plymouth University, showed that ingesting microplastic can also reduce the health of lugworms by delivering harmful chemicals, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials and flame retardants to them.

“We believe our study has highlighted the need to reduce the amount of plastic waste and therefore microplastics which enter our seas,” said Exeter professor Tamara Galloway.

“Plastics are enormously beneficial materials. However, if marine plastic pollution continues to increase, impacts such as those demonstrated in our laboratory studies could occur in the natural environment. It is therefore important that we prevent the accumulation of plastic and microplastic debris in marine habitats through better waste-handling practices and smarter choices in the materials we use.”