Leopard sharks swim past plastic trash in shallows off southern California (Ralph Pace, CC BY-ND)


The Conversation

02-15-2021 12:13:00


Trillions of pieces of plastic that are barely visible floating in the oceans of the world, from the water above to the deep sea. These particles, known as microplastics, usually form when larger plastic items such as shopping bags and food containers are damaged.

Researchers are concerned about microplastics because they are minimalist, widely distributed and easily consumed by wild or unintentional wildlife. We study marine science and animal behavior, and want to know the scale of this problem. In a recently published study conducted by ecologist Elliott Hazen, we examined how marine fish – including species consumed by humans – contain synthetic particles of all sizes.

In the most extensive research on this topic that has been done so far, we find that to date, 386 species of marine fish are known to have plastic debris, including 210 commercially important species. But the plastic findings that ate my fish increased. We predict that this may be due to the fact that microplastic detection methods are improving and that marine plastic pollution continues to increase.