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Plastic found in British fish

21 January 2013, by Alex Peel

Scientists have found tiny fragments of plastic in the digestive systems of fish pulled from the English Channel.

Fish habitat

The discovery, by a team from Plymouth University and the UK Marine Biological Association, highlights the growing problem of plastic contamination of marine environments.

Of 504 fish examined, more than a third was found to contain small pieces of plastic less than one millimetre in size, referred to by scientists as microplastics.

'We have previously shown that on shorelines worldwide and on the sea bed and in the water column around the UK, these tiny fragments of plastic are widespread,' says Professor Richard Thompson.

'Our recent research has shown that such fragments are also being ingested by fish. Laboratory studies on mussels have shown that some organisms can retain plastic after ingestion, hence microplastic debris could also accumulate in natural populations.'

This, say researchers, could carry serious physical consequences for fish, creating blockages in their digestive systems or giving them a false sense of being full.

It could also make it easier for pollutants in surrounding waters to make their way into organisms, as chemicals latch on to the plastic fragments.

The study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, looked at fish caught ten kilometres off the coast of Plymouth.

'We need to recognise the value of plastics at the end of their lives'
Professor Richard Thompson,
Plymouth University

But scientists have been finding plastics in increasingly remote places. A recent voyage to the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica found the once-pristine waters littered with plastics from far-flung places.

This debris comes from a number of sources. Some of the fragments come directly from personal care products, such as face scrubs and exfoliators, which contain microplastics as abrasives. Others form from the break-down of larger items such as bags and bottles.

But Thompson is optimistic that, with the right measures, plastic pollution is a problem that can be tackled without sacrificing the many benefits which come from the use of plastics in the 21st century.

'We don't need to have plastic debris in the sea. These materials are inherently very recyclable, but regrettably they've been at the heart of our throw-away culture for the last few decades.'

Earlier this month, Unilever announced that they are to cut plastic 'microbeads' from all of their personal care products by 2015. And Thompson believes that, with actions such as this, industry has an important role to play.

'We need to recognise the value of plastics at the end of their lives and need help from industry and manufacturers to widen the potential for every day products to be reusable and recyclable,' he adds.

Lusher AL, McHugh M, Thompson RC, Occurrence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract of pelagic and demersel fish from the English Channel, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2012

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Your comments

natural water containing all living animals including fishes near human is government duty to put restriction on poly products daily used and consumed by human population.we must create awareness about the devastating effect of poly ethylene product because of there slow process of decay.

gajendra kotesa, sirohi(india)
Monday, 21 January 2013 - 14:37

One problem that Great Britain has is plastic bags that are not disposed of in the trash. Instead they are thrown out onto the streets, where they end up in waterways, then eventually the ocean. Ireland has placed on ban on plastic bags, and Great Britain will have to perform the same thing.

Tim Upham, United States
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 - 03:50

Fish have been found with Microplasics inside there guts,Thats terible..But what about the human population? we are encouraged to drink 2 ltrs of water a day so my question... how much plastic is in a glass of water? (or 2 ltrs of water?)

Gav, Wiltshire, UK
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 - 12:14

The problem is that plastics made several decades ago are now starting to fragment. Plastic particles found in Tokyo Bay were from plastics made at least 27 years ago. Part of the solution is the use of oxo-biodegradable additives into the plastics causing them to degrade in a couple of years, and then continue to biodegrade to H2O and CO2, their original molecules. So instead of these plastic fragments floating around for decades, oxo-biodegradable fragments will have completely disappeared.

George Fee, South Africa
Thursday, 5 December 2013 - 15:00