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The man of the plastic age: how people destroy themselves and the Earth

Microplastic is discovered all over the planet. But humanity still knows very little about what risks it poses to living things. Therefore, scientists decided to explore global issues that still remained unanswered. Writes about this with the BBC.

Фото: Depositphotos

Daniela Hodgson, a graduate student at the University of London, said that even worms eat a microplate, and then they can be transmitted to birds and fish through the food chain.

“We want to see how much plastic potentially ends up on the shores of the island - how much of it in the sediment - and how much the animals are eating,” Hodgson says. - If there is a lot of plastic around, will it get into food? What types of plastic, shapes, colors, sizes? Then we can use that information for experiments to find out the consequences of using such plastic for various animals. ”

Microplastic is usually called plastic less than 5 mm in size, or about the size of a sesame seed. There are many questions about the effect of these tiny pieces of plastic that come from large plastic trash, cosmetics, and clothes that are not answered yet. It is only obvious that microplastic in a few decades has reached the most remote corners of our planet.

“It's everywhere,” says Hodgson, who studies the movement of plastic in marine ecosystems. “Microplastics can be found in the sea, in freshwater habitats like rivers and lakes, in the atmosphere, in food.”

Million dollar question

The island of Great Cambrai off the coast of Scotland is a favorite day-trip destination for residents of neighboring cities, in particular Glasgow. Cyclists and hikers come here by ferry from Largs, as well as scientists working at the sea station on the island.

On the subject: US leads on microplastic contamination of tap water

When we sailed on a boat off the coast to see how plastic samples are collected from sea water, a dolphin joined us, and for a while sailed next to our boat.

Even in this remote location on the beach, plastic pollution is visible. Professor David Morritt, head of the Royal Golloway University research team, points to blue twine and pieces of plastic bottles washed ashore along with seaweed. Where the plastic comes from is “a million dollar question,” he says, holding up a piece of blue rope.

“We just saw the plastic washed ashore, and it's pretty safe to say it's fishing line, or the remains of fishing nets. Sometimes it's much more complicated. By identifying the type of polymer, the type of plastic, and then comparing with the known uses of these polymers, it is sometimes possible to understand where this plastic may have come from, ”says the professor.

From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to riverbeds and streams in Britain, microplastics are one of the planet's most common pollutants. It is found everywhere - from the deepest parts of our ocean, to the stomachs of whales and seabirds.

The use of plastic in recent decades has increased so much that microplastic is becoming an integral part of the Earth's sedimentary rocks.

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While exploring sedimentary rocks off the coast of California, Dr. Jennifer Brandon found disturbing evidence of how our love for plastic leaves an indelible mark on the planet.

“I have found an exponential increase in microplastics that remains in sedimentary rocks, and this exponential increase in microplastics almost ideally reflects the exponential increase in plastic production,” she says. "The plastic we use ends up in the ocean and then remains in the fossil record."

The era of plastic

The discovery suggests that after the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, we are moving on to the era of plastic.

“Decades later, hundreds of years from now, plastic will likely be used as a geologic marker of our heritage,” says Dr. Brandon of the University of San Diego. - We are essentially littering the ocean with oil products. This is hardly a recipe for a healthy ocean. ”

One big unknown is how microplastics can affect living things. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report that concluded that while particles in tap and bottled water do not pose an obvious health hazard, more research and evidence needs to be done.

Dr. Brandon says we need to know the “plastic footprint” of animals that end up on our table.

On the subject: Scientists: all sea salt in the world is contaminated with plastic

“These microplastic particles are small enough to be eaten by plankton, coral polyps and shellfish, but how do they accumulate in the food chain? She asks. “When it comes to large fish, does it eat plastic itself, or does it eat thousands of small fish, which in turn feed on plankton saturated with lots of microplastics?”

“How high is the plastic footprint of a fish like tuna when it hits your dinner table? This is not always known, ”the researcher concludes.

Just the beginning

Researchers collected water and sediment samples, filtered to isolate plastic, which was examined under a microscope, along with plastic found in marine animals on Great Cambrai Island. Ms. Hodgson says that plastic was found in all samples, including animals, but especially a lot of it was in Cames Bay on the island’s south coast.

Animals such as whales, dolphins and turtles eat large plastic trash like plastic bags. This can lead to starvation. However, other studies show less obvious effects from microplastic use.

“This may not kill them, but over time, damage at the cellular level can occur, this can affect their energy balance and how they can cope with it, so the ingestion of microplastics in a living organism over a long period of time can cause a whole a number of unpleasant consequences, ”says Daniela Hodgson.

On the subject: How scientists hope to solve the problem of world plastic pollution

Further research will help to find answers to many questions, but some of them will take a lot of time to solve.

“We know there are a lot of microplastics and we find it all the time wherever we look,” Brandon says. “But the health implications of it and how it actually affects animals and humans are just beginning to be explored.”

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US leads on microplastic contamination of tap water

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