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Microplastics Effects on Aquatic Life

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1798 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Microplastics have a constant effect on aquatic life and is constantly being researched, here we hope to understand more about these microplastics ingested by aquatic organisms and what effects they can bring about. We look through research on microplastics effect on aquatic life, its presence in the environment and its behaviors as well as studies that focus on toxic consequences of microplastics.


What do we know about plastic? What do we know about microplastics? Why are they harmful and how does it effect aquatic life? Well, microplastics are commonly known as plastic fragments and particles that are 5mm or smaller and can be identified as either a primary or secondary microplastics depending on their source. The primary microplastics are directly placed into the environment through spills, sewage or industrial and domestic means as well as the indirect such as runoff, primary microplastic also include pellets, fibers, fragments, film and spheres, spheres are more commonly known as particles found in cosmetics and certain pharmaceuticals. Secondary microplastics on the other hand come from much larger plastic objects or fragments and come from the further fragmentation and or degrading of said plastics in the environment due physical effects such as waves eroding them, chemical effects such as UV rays degrading the, and even biological effects from microorganisms tearing them apart and when these microplastics end up in the environment under these effects they tend to easily turn into Nano-plastics which are within 1-100nm and have a much lesser know effects due to their small size.

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The aquatic environment has seen a continuous increase in the levels of microplastics which can, of course, be tied to as the years go by the continued and ever-increasing production rates of plastics as a whole and plastics have many a number of varying characteristics be it durability(a big issue in why its not biodegradable) or low production costs, etc.. That makes plastics available for use in an ever increasing array of uses from pharmaceuticals to everyday objects and all tend to make our lives as humans much easier and hard to live without at this point. But some of these varying characteristics make the ever-growing presence of plastics in the aquatic environment and the environment in general ever more so problematic and harmful, and of course  the main reasons for this stems from the fact that when plastics are made, many a type of chemicals are introduced into it during the manufacturing process which give plastic differing properties depending on the chemical but one common ground in all chemical induced plastics is that they can be indeed toxic when ingested, and these plastics themselves are quite good at absorbing chemicals in the environment which just brings them another level more dangerous. Microplastic, in particular, have a high potential to carry chemical/toxic particles, plus microplastics can be found in all sorts of different forms and the varying differences in density or even the shapes of microplastics can cause microplastics to fit virtually anywhere in an aquatic environment and also allows them to be available for ingestion and harm to organisms in all sorts of habitats and the trophic levels of the area even going as far as being able to affect phytoplankton and zooplankton due to the fact that those organisms have a higher chance of finding and ingesting floating less dense microplastics in comparison to things like mollusks are able to be more affected by denser than water microplastics. But the cycle of harmful microplastics doesn’t end at just such smaller or grounded organisms for the fish in the aquatic habitat will consume prey and ingest it themselves plus any other microplastics that they can see and confuse for food, and even after that the mammals and birds who live near and feed off of aquatic organisms indirectly ingest microplastics and this can happen easily in both fresh and salt water environments which makes this an ever growing problem.


 Some of the more well know plastics that lead into more microplastics include, polyethylene, polystyrene, polypropylene, polyester, basically all polymers , I get this from a survey done back in November 2017 that showed many peer-reviewed pieces and searched for keywords such as “Microplastics” to be able to pull out lots of data from different studies on different types of microplastics, effects it has and many lab results on them and organisms themselves. The groups of organisms that were studied included, birds, mammals, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, etc. From these studies, we could learn more about the toxic effect of microplastic chemicals on life such as mortality and impairments to the reproduction or behaviors of the organisms.

Fig.1 “Ecotoxicological effects of microplastics on the different groups of organisms. Every bar has a total number of studies. Studies were defined according to the type of MPs, groups of organisms and effects.”

Fig.2 “Combined ecotoxicological effects of microplastics with other contaminants on the different groups of organisms. Every bar shows the total number of studies. Studies were defined according to the type of MPs, groups of organisms and effects.”


 It is without a doubt a fact that the constant gathering of microplastics within the aquatic environments of our world is causing harm to the many organisms that are exposed to these particles and the said exposure is threatening many species, their habitats and the ,of course ,leading back to us, humans. The negative effects of microplastics on aquatic lifeforms is a recognized issue within the realm of science, clearly shown by the the number of studies coming out in recent years focusing on marine life and things that affect them. We don’t know enough about this growing issue as we should do, especially the effects of microplastics on non-fish organisms, polystyrene microplastics is one of the most heavily studies polymers but there are still other kinds that need more study for they too show a chance at danger for aquatic organisms and we need to help expand our knowledge on the dangers of microplastic to living organisms and on prevention to attempt to slow down the flow of plastics, which turn into microplastics, from entering our aquatic environments before it turns to late.


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  • Maddison Carbery, Wayne O’Connor, Palanisami Thavamani Trophic transfer of microplastics and mixed contaminants in the marine food web and implications for human health Environment International


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