plastic pollution

Eating plastic makes for smaller mussels

RMIT researcher calls for reducing ‘microplastics’ in bathroom products

Mussels in Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne are ingesting microscopic pieces of plastic used in cosmetics. And it’s affecting their ability to grow and reproduce, an RMIT University eco-toxicologist has found.

The microplastics travel from our bathroom sinks to the ocean, where they are easily confused with algae or seaweeds. Because they cannot tell the difference, the mussels take in the plastic along with their normal diet of algae.

But, says researcher Dr Charlene Trestrail, the plastics affect the action of four of their key digestive enzymes which means the mussels then struggle to break down starch into the simple sugars they need to survive.

“We don’t think the plastic affects mussels directly, but it does reduce their ability to digest the real food in their gut, which means they miss out on energy and nutrients,” says Dr Trestrail.

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It’s not just fish, plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help us breathe

Plastic pollution can harm both the micro and macro-organisms living in our oceans. Photo: Kevin Krejci

Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean.

Now laboratory tests have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution, according to a study published in Communications Biology tonight.

“We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu.

“Now we’d like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean.”

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