Turning microplastics into nanoplastics through digestive fragmentation by Antarctic krill

Microplastics (plastics <5 mm diameter) are at the forefront of current environmental pollution research, however, little is known about the degradation of microplastics through ingestion. Here, by exposing Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) to microplastics under acute static renewal conditions, we present evidence of physical size alteration of microplastics ingested by a planktonic crustacean. Ingested microplastics (31.5 µm) are fragmented into pieces less than 1 µm in diameter. Previous feeding studies have shown spherical microplastics either; pass unaffected through an organism and are excreted, or are sufficiently small for translocation to occur. We identify a new pathway; microplastics are fragmented into sizes small enough to cross physical barriers, or are egested as a mixture of triturated particles. These findings suggest that current laboratory-based feeding studies may be oversimplifying interactions between zooplankton and microplastics but also introduces a new role of Antarctic krill, and potentially other species, in the biogeochemical cycling and fate of plastic.

Amanda L. Dawson, So Kawaguchi, Catherine K. King, Kathy A. Townsend, Robert King, Wilhelmina M. Huston, Susan M. Bengtson Nash ,Nature Communications, volume 9, Article number: 1001, 2018

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Arctic sea ice is an important temporal sink and means of transport for microplastic

Microplastics (MP) are recognized as a growing environmental hazard and have been identified as far as the remote Polar Regions, with particularly high concentrations of microplastics in sea ice. Little is known regarding the horizontal variability of MP within sea ice and how the underlying water body affects MP composition during sea ice growth. Here we show that sea ice MP has no uniform polymer composition and that, depending on the growth region and drift paths of the sea ice, unique MP patterns can be observed in different sea ice horizons. Thus even in remote regions such as the Arctic Ocean, certain MP indicate the presence of localized sources. Increasing exploitation of Arctic resources will likely lead to a higher MP load in the Arctic sea ice and will enhance the release of MP in the areas of strong seasonal sea ice melt and the outflow gateways.

Ilka Peeken, Sebastian Primpke, Birte Beyer, Julia Gütermann, Christian Katlein, Thomas Krumpen, Melanie Bergmann, Laura Hehemann,  Gunnar Gerdts, Nature Communications, volume 9, 24 April 2018

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Effects of polystyrene microplastics on early stages of two marine invertebrates with different feeding strategies

Nowadays, microplastics represent one of the main threats to marine ecosystems, being able to affect organisms at different stages of their life cycle and at different levels of the food web. Although the presence of plastic debris has been reported in different habitats and the ability to ingest it has been confirmed for different taxa, few studies have been performed to elucidate the effects on survival and development of marine animals. Thus, we explored the effects of different environmental concentrations of polystyrene microbeads on the early stages of two invertebrate species widespread in the Mediterranean shallow waters: the pelagic planktotrophic pluteus larvae of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus and the filter-feeding sessile juveniles of the ascidian Ciona robusta. We evaluated the effects on larvae and juvenile development and determined the efficiency of bead ingestion. The feeding stages of both species proved to be extremely efficient in ingesting microplastics. In the presence of microbeads, the metamorphosis of ascidian juveniles was slowed down and development of plutei altered. These results prompted the necessity to monitor the populations of coastal invertebrates since microplastics affect sensitive stages of life cycle and may have consequences on generation recruitment.

S. Messinetti, S. Mercurio, M. Parolini and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 237, June 2018, Pages 1080-1087

The article

Multi-temporal surveys for microplastic particles enabled by a novel and fast application of SWIR imaging spectroscopy – Study of an urban watercourse traversing the city of Berlin, Germany


• Fast semi-automated identification of microplastics by SWIR imaging spectroscopy.

• Areally extensive multi-temporal sampling survey.

• Analysis of rainstorm related microplastic input to watercourse.

• Evidence of an urban area as a source of microplastic pollution.

L. K. Schmidt, M. Bochow, H. K. Imhof and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 579–589

The article

Interaction of toxic chemicals with microplastics: A critical review

Occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in the environment has attracted great attention as it has become a global concern. This review aims to systematically demonstrate the role of marine microplastic as a novel medium for environmental partitioning of chemicals in the ocean, which can cause toxic effects in the ecological environment. This review assimilated and analyzed available data published between 1972 and 2017 on the interaction between MPs and selected chemicals. Firstly, the review analyzes the occurrence of chemicals in MPs and outlines their distribution patterns. Then possible mechanisms of the interaction between MPs and organic chemicals and potential controlling factors were critically studied. Finally, the hazards of MPs and affiliated organic chemicals to marine organisms were shortly summarized.

F. Wang, C. S. Wong, D. Chen and al., Water Research, Volume 139, 1 August 2018, Pages 208-219

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The effects of trophic transfer and environmental factors on microplastic uptake by plaice, Pleuronectes plastessa, and spider crab, Maja squinado

Microplastic pollution is apparent throughout the marine environment from deep ocean sediments to coastal habitats. Most of this is believed to originate on land, although marine activities, such as fishing and shipping, also contribute to the release and redistribution of microplastic. The relative importance of these maritime plastic sources, the manner by which they are distributed in the environment, and their effect on uptake by marine organisms are yet to be fully quantified. In this study, the relative impact of fishing activities on microplastic uptake by demersal fish and crustaceans was explored. Local fishing intensity, proximity to land and mean water velocity are compared to microplastic uptake in plaice, Pleuronectes platessa, and spider crab, Maja squinado, from the Celtic Sea. Observations were also made of microplastic contamination in ingested sand eels, Ammodytes tobianus, to establish a potential route of trophic transfer. This study is the first to identify microplastic contamination in spider crab and to document trophic transfer in the wild. Individuals were sampled from sites of varied fishing intensity in the Celtic Sea, and their stomach contents examined for the presence of microplastic. Contamination was observed in 50% of P. platessa, 42.4% of M. squinado, and 44.4% of A. tobianus. Locations of highest plastic abundance varied between P. platessa and M. squinado, indicating that different factors influence the uptake of microplastic in these two taxa. No significant link was observed between fishing effort and microplastic abundance; however, proximity to land was linked to increased abundance in M. squinado and Observations of whole prey demonstrate ongoing trophic transfer from A. tobianus to P. platessa. The lack of significant difference in microplastic abundance between predator and prey suggests that microplastic is not retained by P. platessa.

N. A. Welden, B. Abylkhani, L. M. Howarth, Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 351–358

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Two forage fishes as potential conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in Northeastern Pacific Ocean food webs

We assessed the potential role played by two vital Northeastern Pacific Ocean forage fishes, the Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes personatus) and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), as conduits for the vertical transfer of microfibres in food webs. We quantified the number of microfibres found in the stomachs of 734 sand lance and 205 herring that had been captured by an abundant seabird, the rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata). Sampling took place on six widely-dispersed breeding colonies in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington State, USA, over one to eight years. The North Pacific Ocean is a global hotspot for pollution, yet few sand lance (1.5%) or herring (2.0%) had ingested microfibres. In addition, there was no systematic relationship between the prevalence of microplastics in the fish stomachs vs. in waters around three of our study colonies (measured in an earlier study). Sampling at a single site (Protection Island, WA) in a single year (2016) yielded most (sand lance) or all (herring) of the microfibres recovered over the 30 colony-years of sampling involved in this study, yet no microfibres had been recovered there, in either species, in the previous year. We thus found no evidence that sand lance and herring currently act as major food-web conduits for microfibres along British Columbia’s outer coast, nor that the local at-sea density of plastic necessarily determines how much plastic enters marine food webs via zooplanktivores. Extensive urban development around the Salish Sea probably explains the elevated microfibre loads in fishes collected on Protection Island, but we cannot account for the between-year variation. Nonetheless, the existence of such marked interannual variation indicates the importance of measuring year-to-year variation in microfibre pollution both at sea and in marine biota.

J. M. Hipfner, M. Galbraith, S. Tucker and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 239, August 2018, Pages 215-222

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