There is increasing concern about the impacts of microplastics (<1 mm) on marine biota. Microplastics may be mistaken for food items and ingested by a wide variety of organisms. While the effects of ingesting microplastic have been explored for some adult organisms, there is poor understanding of the effects of microplastic ingestion on marine larvae. Here, we investigated the ingestion of polyethylene microspheres by larvae of the sea urchin, Tripneustes gratilla. Ingestion rates scaled with the concentration of microspheres. Ingestion rates were, however, reduced by biological fouling of microplastic and in the presence of phytoplankton food. T. gratilla larvae were able to egest microspheres from their stomach within hours of ingestion. A microsphere concentration far exceeding those recorded in the marine environment had a small nondose dependent effect on larval growth, but there was no significant effect on survival. In contrast, environmentally realistic concentrations appeared to have little effect. Overall, these results suggest that current levels of microplastic pollution in the oceans only pose a limited threat to T. gratilla and other marine invertebrate larvae, but further research is required on a broad range of species, trophic levels, and polymer types.
Katrina L. Kaposi , Benjamin Mos , Brendan P. Kelaher , and Symon A. Dworjanyn, Environ. Sci. Technol.,Vol. 48 (3), Pages 1638-1645, February 2014