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Hidden danger of marine litter

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Gavin Morgan

18 April, 2008

THE 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 the plastic.

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.

This minke whale died after becoming entabgled in plastic, at Scalloway, last year - Photo: Austin TaylorSea 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.

Photo: www.austintaylorphotographie.com

“We also want to push to get a lot more monitoring done so we can see the situation right the way round northern Europe.”
 


Most recent update - Friday, 25 July 2008 07:11
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