Microscopic plastic fragments (<5 mm) are a worldwide conservation issue, polluting both coastal and marine environments. Fibers are the most prominent plastic type reported in the guts of marine organisms, but their effects once ingested are unknown. This study investigated the fate of polypropylene rope microfibers (1–5 mm in length) ingested by the crab Carcinus maenas and the consequences for the crab’s energy budget. In chronic 4 week feeding studies, crabs that ingested food containing microfibers (0.3–1.0% plastic by weight) showed reduced food consumption (from 0.33 to 0.03 g d–1) and a significant reduction in energy available for growth (scope for growth) from 0.59 to −0.31 kJ crab d–1 in crabs fed with 1% plastic. The polypropylene microfibers were physically altered by their passage through the foregut and were excreted with a smaller overall size and length and amalgamated into distinctive balls. These results support of the emerging paradigm that a key biological impact of microplastic ingestion is a reduction in energy budgets for the affected marine biota. We also provide novel evidence of the biotransformations that can affect the plastics themselves following ingestion and excretion.
Andrew J.R. Watts, Mauricio A. Urbina, Shauna Corr, Ceri Lewis, and Tamara S. Galloway, Environ. Sci. Technol., 49 (24), pp 14597–14604, 2015