Global Warming And Microplastics Have Teamed Up To Make Everything Worse For Sea Anemones

Source: Hakai Magazine/Hannah Thomasy 

Photo: Ernest Ojeh/Unsplash

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Climate change and plastic pollution are major threats to all marine life, from minuscule crustaceans to gigantic whales. Although many experiments have examined these threats, few have looked at what happens when they both strike at once. At least for the sea anemone, new research from a team at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, suggests that the combined threat is worse than the sum of its parts.

Under normal conditions, sea anemones derive energy from two main sources: the symbiotic algae that live within them, and food they grab from the sea. “Because the anemones with the symbiotic algae are getting nutrients from the algae, they can be more selective about what they eat,” says marine scientist Manoela Romanó de Orte, the lead researcher on this project.

But when anemones are exposed to rising water temperatures, they can expel their symbiotic algae, an event known as bleaching. When this happens, the sea anemone’s sole source of energy is its food. Scientists think these already stressed animals might be less selective about what they eat, and are slower to realize that they’ve ingested microplastic, not food. Indeed, the researchers found that bleached anemones retained ingested microplastics longer than healthy sea anemones.

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Photo: Ernest Ojeh/Unsplash

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