By Lynne Peeples
23 March 2015
(Huffington Post) – Scientists are looking for -- and finding -- little bits of plastic in a lot of places lately: ice cores, deep sea sediments, coral reefs, crab gills, the digestive system of mussels, even German beer. Now, new research suggests they need not actually be searching for the man-made material to discover it.
"We never thought of looking for plastic," said Javier Gomez Fernandez, a biologist at Singapore University of Technology and Design.
His team's accidental finding of plastic in the skin of both farmed and wild fish, published online this month in the supplementary section of their unrelated peer-reviewed paper, adds to already growing environmental and public health concerns about the plastic particles pervading our oceans and waterways.
Over time, waves and sunlight break down large chunks of plastic, leaving the remnants of discarded packaging, bottles and bags nearly invisible to the naked eye. These so-called microplastics, particles under a millimeter across, may pose big troubles, experts warn.
"It fragments quickly. We fear that as plastic continues to break down, it becomes even more susceptible to being eaten by marine organisms or taken into the gills of fish or, apparently, even embedded into their scales," said Kara Lavender Law, of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Plastic has been found in creatures ranging from worms and barnacles to seabirds and marine mammals, Law noted. Synthetic chemicals can then travel up the food chain, and potentially on to our dinner plates.
Law co-authored a study published in February that estimated 5 to 13 million metric tons of plastic litter enters the world's oceans every year. That's equivalent to five plastic grocery bags filled with plastics for every foot of coastline.
Since plastic does not biodegrade, it simply accumulates -- year after year.