Microplastic Pollution Harms Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

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As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report.

Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem.

The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. Lugworms, often called the “earthworms of the sea,” are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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