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Microplastics interfere with marine ecosystem


Research carried out jointly between the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) that has recently been published in the journal ‘Environmental Science and Technology’ has revealed that ‘microplastics’ – tiny bits of plastic that are too small for the naked eye to detect – are able to interfere with the feeding and breeding of an aquatic animal known as the Copepod.

Copepods are one of the most common forms of zooplankton, tiny animals that are present in vast numbers throughout the global ocean. It is estimated that there are around 200 billion times more Copepods than there are humans. They are a vital source of food for many aquatic creatures and thus form an extremely important part of both the global marine ecology and the carbon cycle.

Microplastics have been found in oceans all over the world. Some of them, such as exfoliates in cosmetics, are manufactured to be microscopic in size, whilst others derive from the breakdown of larger plastic waste.

The Copepods are forced into using up their long-term energy reserves because of their reduced consumption of food. These reserves are extremely important, as they provide energy for the creatures during winter months, when food is sparse, whilst also making them highly nutritional to animals higher on up the food chain.

It is hoped that these findings will aid policymakers in targeting marine areas of the greatest ecological concern for cleaning up the oceans.

The lead researcher, Dr. Matthew Cole, stated that “Zooplankton, such as Copepods, play a vital role in our oceans. These microscopic animals are close to the base of the marine food web and are an incredibly important source of food for a vast range of marine animals, including fish larvae and whales.”

Theodore Stone, News Team

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