Around half of marine creatures living at depths of more than 2,000 metres in the North Atlantic could be eating microplastic material, marine scientists have discovered.
Researchers at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland sampled deep-sea starfish and sea snails from the Rockall Trough and found microscopic traces of plastic in 48 per cent of those sampled. The levels of plastic ingestion were comparable to those found in species living in shallower coastal waters.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5 millimetres in size and, when ingested by sea creatures, may be passed up the food chain.
Although scientists have previously found traces of microplastics in the deep sea, this research, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is the first time microplastic ingestion in deep-sea invertebrates has been quantified.
A range of plastics were identified; the paper shows how even naturally buoyant substances, such as polyethylene used to make plastic shopping bags, could be found inside brittle stars, sea stars and sea snails.
Photo: Dr. Ken Sulak/USGS/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons (CC0)