18 April, 2008
HIDDEN danger to marine life of microscopic particles of plastic is being
highlighted by an environmental pressure group based in Shetland.
New research has revealed huge concentrations of tiny plastic particles in the
sea, which can have far more impact on sea creatures than the larger plastic
litter most people recognise.
Plastic can break down into miniscule fragments, and some soaps and toothpastes
contain minute plastic particles which are so small they pass through drainage
filters and end up in the sea.
Green lobby group KIMO, which represents coastal local authorities in northern
Europe, has been studying the problem. The full impact is not known but concern
is growing, especially about hazardous chemicals absorbed onto the surface of
KIMO secretary John Mouat said: “A lot of very small particles are worse than
one or two large bits. You have a much larger surface area so you have a much
bigger ability to transfer these hazardous chemicals.”
The first major investigation into the subject was undertaken by Dr Richard
Thompson, of Plymouth University, and followed up more recently by scientists
from KIMO Sweden.
Swedish research discovered 302,000 plastic particles per cubic metre of water,
when scientists filtered water from around their shores through tiny mesh nets.
birds are known to be dying from ingesting plastics off the surface of the
water, and having their health, feeding habits and breeding affected.
Dr Thompson also found smaller animals such as barnacles or “filter feeders”
were taking in these particles, leading to questions whether chemicals were
being released into these organisms and being accumulated up the food chain.
Mr Mouat said: “At the moment there is a lot that is unknown and that is what we
are hoping to look into in the future.
“We also want to push to get a lot more monitoring done so we can see the
situation right the way round northern Europe.”