Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tiny plankton snacking on plastic is a big problem for the food chain

World exclusive - filmed for the first time at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, we dyed microscopic pieces of plastic with fluorescent dye so you can see them being ingested by the plankton - scary stuff.

From CNET by Michelle Starr

The effect of plastic microbeads, as found in toothpaste and exfoliants, on microscopic marine life is unknown -- but we know now that the substance is likely ingested by zooplankton along with their diet of phytoplankton, thanks to a video by a team of filmmakers led by Verity White of Five Films

The footage was part of a short film by Norwegian filmmaker Ren Kyst about litter and coastal cleanups that won Atkins CIWEM Environmental Film of the Year from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in the UK.

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic makes its way into the oceans every year, according to a study conducted by researchers at the UC Santa Barbara National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, published in the journal Science early this year.
Somewhere between 6,350 and 245,000 metric tons of tha plastic is floating -- which means the rest of it ends up somewhere beneath the surface.

And it's not all plastic bottles, six-pack rings and fishing nets.
A lot of the plastic that ends up in the ocean comes from the plastic microbeads found in body wash and other personal care products.
Other discarded plastics degrade pretty quickly, eroding into very small fragments.
And, while it is estimated that plastics cause the death of over a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year, the effect it has on life under the ocean is difficult to gauge.

 Zooplankton and flourescent plastic microbeads.
Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

The Plymouth Marine Laboratory in Plymouth, England is studying the impact these microplastics have on marine life, with a particular focus on zooplankton.
It was at the PML that White and her team shot the film.

The action takes place in a single drop of water over the course of about three hours, condensed down into less than a minute of footage, reports New Scientist.
Several copepods -- a type of zooplankton -- were surrounded by microscopic fluorescent polystyrene beads.
Copepods feed by moving their legs to direct food towards their mouths.
While they can reject the wrong type of phytoplankton (algae), the film clearly shows some of the beads get caught up and ingested by the animals.
This can cause problems for the zooplankton, as the plastic can remain in their bodies for up to seven days.
This negatively impacts the rate at which the zooplankton can consume algae, which in turn could impact their ability to survive.
This, according to the film, is a cause for concern not just for the zooplankton, but for other species as well. Zooplankton are at the bottom of the food chain, so if zooplankton populations drop, the animals that eat zooplankton will have a harder time finding food.
Moreover, what zooplankton ingest often ends up ingested by their predators, all the way to the top of the food chain.
The Plymouth Marine Laboratory has released this week a suite of videos and other educational materials on the impact of microplastics on the ocean.

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