Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The sea as a rubbish tip – Microplastic being absorbed by marine life

Biologists prepare guidelines for a more precise investigation into marine pollution from microplastic particles
April 2012. Large quantities of globally produced plastics end up in the oceans where they represent a growing risk. Above all very small objects, so-called microplastic particles, are endangering the lives of the many sea creatures. An estimate of how greatly the oceans are polluted with microplastic particles has so far failed in the absence of globally comparable methods of investigation and data. Together with British and Chilean colleagues, scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association have now analysed all published studies on this topic and have proposed standardised guidelines for the recording and characterisation of microplastic particles in the sea.
Tiny pieces of plastic
Plastic bottles washed on to the beach are as much a part of the coast as the sound of seagulls. What the eye does not see are the innumerable ultra-small plastic objects which float in the water, are washed on to the beach or settle on the sea bed. Scientists refer to these plastic particles as "microplastic particles", understanding these to mean plastic objects whose diameter is less than five millimetres - whereby the majority of microplastic particles are smaller than a grain of sand or the tip of a needle.
It is this property that also makes them so dangerous to the sea dwellers. "Microplastic particles are swallowed by organisms and absorbed via the digestive tract. It has been possible, for example, to detect them in the tissue of mussels or other animals", says Dr. Lars Gutow, biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. Toxic substances also attach to the small particles in the sea which then enter the food chain in this way and may therefore ultimately be dangerous to humans.

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