New Atlas —
Modern scientific techniques are rapidly improving our understanding of how plastic pollution can impact marine organisms, and a new study has demonstrated how they can also be used to understand the plight of creatures past. Scientists have used museum collections to step back in time and study the guts of freshwater fish over the past century, which revealed not just that they’ve been swallowing plastic waste for decades, but that the concentration in their bellies has skyrocketed in recent times.
This study by biologists at the Loyola University Chicago focuses on microplastics, which are tiny fragments of broken down shopping bags, soda bottles and other plastic items, smaller than 5 mm (0.2 in) in size. Recently, scientists studying the effects of microplastics on marine organisms have made some concerning discoveries, finding that they can cause aneurysms and reproductive changes in fish, affect the cognitive performance of hermit crabs and weaken the physical performance of mussels, just to list a few examples. They’ve also uncovered evidence of microplastics traveling up the food chain, while studies on the potential effects on humans has found they may alter the shape of lung cells.