Widespread microplastic ingestion by fish assemblages in tropical estuaries subjected to anthropogenic pressures

Our aim was to quantify microplastic ingestion by fish assemblages in two tropical Brazilian estuaries and to evaluate whether biological and ecological factors influence the ingestion of microplastics by fish species. Of 2233 fish from both estuaries (from 69 species) examined in this study, 9% of the individuals (24 species) had microplastics in their gut contents. Microplastic ingestion occurred irrespective of fish size and functional group. The diet of fish species was analyzed based on prey items identified in the fish’s full stomach contents and five feeding guilds were defined. Microplastics were common throughout all feeding guilds. Low (average ingestion values 1.06 ± 0.30 items/total fish) but widespread occurrence among estuaries also indicates proliferation of microplastic pollution. Our findings highlight the need to focus on assemblage level studies to understand the real magnitude of the problem and emphasize the urgency of mitigation measures directed at microplastic pollution in estuarine ecosystems.

A.L. Vendel, F. Bessa, V.E.N. Alves, A.L.A. Amorim, J. Patrício, A.R.T. Palma, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 117, Issues 1–2, 15 April 2017, Pages 448–455

The article

Freshwater’s macro microplastic problem

Like in the oceans, the bulk of the pollution in rivers and lakes is not in the form of plastic bottles and other large pieces, but tiny pieces called microplastics that would be hard to spot. “Three quarters of what we take out of the Great Lakes are less than a millimeter in size,” she says. “It’s basically the size of a period of a sentence.” These plastics are concerning to scientists because they are being ingested by a variety of aquatic organisms. (…) (pbs.org, 11/05/2017)

The news

Microplastic in Aquatic Ecosystems

The contamination of marine and freshwater ecosystems with plastic, and especially with microplastic (MP), is a global ecological problem of increasing scientific concern. This has stimulated a great deal of research on the occurrence of MP, interaction of MP with chemical pollutants, the uptake of MP by aquatic organisms, and the resulting (negative) impact of MP. Herein, we review the major issues of MP in aquatic environments, with the principal aims 1) to characterize the methods applied for MP analysis (including sampling, processing, identification and quantification), indicate the most reliable techniques, and discuss the required further improvements; 2) to estimate the abundance of MP in marine/freshwater ecosystems and clarify the problems that hamper the comparability of such results; and 3) to summarize the existing literature on the uptake of MP by living organisms. Finally, we identify knowledge gaps, suggest possible strategies to assess environmental risks arising from MP, and discuss prospects to minimize MP abundance in aquatic ecosystems.

N. P. Ivleva, a. Wiesheu, R. Niessner, Angew.Chem.Int., Volume 56, Issue 7, February 6, 2017, Pages 1720–1739  

The article

Microplastic contamination in Lake Winnipeg, Canada

Microplastics are an emerging contaminant of concern in aquatic ecosystems. To better understand microplastic contamination in North American surface waters, we report for the first time densities of microplastics in Lake Winnipeg, the 11th largest freshwater body in the world. Samples taken 2014 to 2016 revealed similar or significantly greater microplastic densities in Lake Winnipeg compared with those reported in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Plastics in the lake were largely of secondary origin, overwhelmingly identified as fibres. We detected significantly greater densities of microplastics in the north basin compared to the south basin of the lake in 2014, but not in 2015 or 2016. Mean lake-wide densities across all years were comparable and not statistically different. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy indicated that 23% of isolated particles on average were not plastic. While the ecological impact of microplastics on aquatic ecosystems is still largely unknown, our study contributes to the growing evidence that microplastic contamination is widespread even around sparsely-populated freshwater ecosystems, and provides a baseline for future study and risk assessments.

Philip J. Anderson, Sarah Warrack, Victoria Langen and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 225, June 2017, Pages 223–231

The article

Microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments: Evaluating the current understanding to identify the knowledge gaps and future research priorities

Plastic debris is an environmentally persistent and complex contaminant of increasing concern. Understanding the sources, abundance and composition of microplastics present in the environment is a huge challenge due to the fact that hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic material is manufactured for societal use annually, some of which is released to the environment. The majority of microplastics research to date has focussed on the marine environment. Although freshwater and terrestrial environments are recognised as origins and transport pathways of plastics to the oceans, there is still a comparative lack of knowledge about these environmental compartments. It is highly likely that microplastics will accumulate within continental environments, especially in areas of high anthropogenic influence such as agricultural or urban areas. This review critically evaluates the current literature on the presence, behaviour and fate of microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments and, where appropriate, also draws on relevant studies from other fields including nanotechnology, agriculture and waste management. Furthermore, we evaluate the relevant biological and chemical information from the substantial body of marine microplastic literature, determining the applicability and comparability of this data to freshwater and terrestrial systems. With the evidence presented, the authors have set out the current state of the knowledge, and identified the key gaps. These include the volume and composition of microplastics entering the environment, behaviour and fate of microplastics under a variety of environmental conditions and how characteristics of microplastics influence their toxicity. Given the technical challenges surrounding microplastics research, it is especially important that future studies develop standardised techniques to allow for comparability of data. The identification of these research needs will help inform the design of future studies, to determine both the extent and potential ecological impacts of microplastic pollution in freshwater and terrestrial environments.

Alice A. Horton, Alexander Walton, David J. Spurgeon, Elma Lahive, Claus Svendsen, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 586, 15 May 2017, Pages 127–141

The article

Microplastics ingestion by a common tropical freshwater fishing resource

Microplastics pollution is widespread in marine ecosystems and a major threat to biodiversity. Nevertheless, our knowledge of the impacts of microplastics in freshwater environments and biota is still very limited. The interaction of microplastics with freshwater organisms and the risks associated with the human consumption of organisms that ingested microplastics remain major knowledge gaps. In this study, we assessed the ingestion of microplastics by Hoplosternum littorale, a common freshwater fish heavily consumed by humans in semi-arid regions of South America. We assessed the abundance and diversity of both plastic debris and other food items found in the gut of fishes caught by local fishermen. We observed that 83% of the fish had plastic debris inside the gut, the highest frequency reported for a fish species so far. Most of the plastic debris (88.6%) recovered from the guts of fish were microplastics (<5 mm), fibres being the most frequent type (46.6%). We observed that fish consumed more microplastics at the urbanized sections of the river, and that the ingestion of microplastics was negatively correlated with the diversity of other food items in the gut of individual fish. Nevertheless, microplastics ingestion appears to have a limited impact on H. littorale, and the consequences of human consumption of this fish were not assessed. Our results suggest freshwater biota are vulnerable to microplastics pollution and that urbanization is a major factor contributing to the pollution of freshwater environments with microplastics. We suggest the gut content of fish could be used as a tool for the qualitative assessment of microplastics pollution in freshwater ecosystems. Further research is needed to determine the processes responsible for the high incidence of microplastics ingestion by H. littorale, and to evaluate the risk posed to humans by the consumption of freshwater fish that ingested microplastics.

Jacqueline Santos Silva-Cavalcanti, José Diego B. Silva, Elton José de França and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 221, February 2017, Pages 218–226

The article

Microplastic pollution in Vembanad Lake, Kerala, India: The first report of microplastics in lake and estuarine sediments in India

We present the first study of microplastics in the sediments of Vembanad Lake, a Ramsar site in India. Microplastics are emerging pollutants of increasing environmental concern with a particle size of <5 mm, which originate from successive degradation of larger plastic debris or are manufactured as small granules and used in many applications. The impact of microplastics pollution on the environment and biota is not well known. Vast data exist in the literature on marine microplastics while reports on freshwater ecosystems are scarce. In this context, to examine the occurrence of microplastic particles (MPs) in the Vembanad Lake, samples were collected from ten sites and processed for microplastic extraction through density separation. Identification of the polymer components of MPs was done using micro Raman spectroscopy. MPs were recovered from all sediment samples, indicating their extensive distribution in the lake. The abundance of MPs recorded from the sediment samples is in the range of 96–496 particles m−2 with a mean abundance of 252.80 ± 25.76 particles m−2. Low density polyethylene has been identified as the dominant type of polymer component of the MPs. As clams and fishes are the major source of protein to the local population, the presence of MPs in the lake becomes critically important, posing a severe threat of contaminating the food web of this lake. This study, being the first report from India on MPs in lake sediments, provide impetus for further research on the distribution and impact of this emerging pollutant on the biota of many aquatic systems spread across India.

S. Sruthy, E.V. Ramasamy, Environmental Pollution, Volume 222, March 2017, Pages 315–322