Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fish prefer to eat plastic over food – and it is killing them, study suggests

'The effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,' experts warn

Ian Johnston Science Correspondent 
1 hour  ago

Microplastic particles appear to be killing fish because their larvae prefer to eat them rather than their actual food, researchers have warned.

With fears that the amount of plastic in the oceans could soon equal the weight of fish in the sea, scientists have become increasingly concerned about the effects on the marine environment.

Now a study published in the journal Science has found that baby perch will actively choose to eat plastic over the plankton they would normally feed on.

The researchers said this greatly increased mortality rates of the perch, stunting their growth and appearing to change usually innate behaviour.

For example, they seemed to lose the ability to smell a predator that made them much more vulnerable.

Professor Peter Eklov, a co-author of the Science paper, said: “This is the first time an animal has been found to preferentially feed on plastic particles and is cause for concern.
“Increases in microplastic pollution in the Baltic Sea and marked recruitment declines of the coastal keystone species, like perch and pike, have recently been observed. 

“Our study suggests a potential driver for the observed … increased mortality.”

When placed in a tank with a pike, perch exposed to microplastic were eaten four times more quickly than perch that had not been eating plastic. 

All the plastic-fed fish had been killed within 48 hours.

Fellow researcher Oona Lpnnstedt stressed the effects of prey fish eating large amounts of plastic was likely to be felt throughout the food chain.

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