Microplastic Pollution Is Harming Oysters, the Ocean’s Ecosystem Engineers

Source: LA Times/Sean Greene - February 11, 2016 in Environment, Featured

Microplastic Pollution Is Harming Oysters, the Ocean’s Ecosystem Engineers
Photo: Leonard J/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Oysters eat by filtering the water around them and digesting anything small enough to trap, whether that’s algae, phytoplankton — or tiny pieces of plastic floating in the ocean.

It stands to reason that the plastic isn’t good for them. Now scientists know why: It takes such a toll on their digestive systems that their ability to reproduce is cut almost in half, according to a study published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists recently estimated that the world’s oceans contain more than 5 trillion floating plastic particles, which have a combined weight of 250,000 tons.

Microplastic pollution “has been found on almost every beach worldwide, on polar icecaps and just about everywhere in the ocean,” said Arnaud Huvet, a marine physiologist at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea. “It’s a real concern for marine ecosystems.”

The pollutants find their way to the ocean when cosmetics, hygiene products and toothpaste containing plastic microbeads wash down the drain or when larger plastic products break down in seawater. About 4 million to 12 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, and that amount is expected to increase tenfold by 2025, according to a 2013 study in Science.

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