Reporters are continuing to cover our work on documenting the magnitude of plastic pollution across our world ocean and the potential impacts from all this unintended petroleum waste, both macro and micro. This week our CSUCI team headed over to downtown Ventura for a presentation to the general public on what we have found to date.
Clare Steele is an associate professor of environmental science and resource management at California State University, Channel Islands, in Camarillo. Steele conducted research, along with seniors Dorothy Horn and Michaela Miller, that shows that plastic pollution, in particular so-called microplastics, has been found within the food chain through sand crabs, which in turn are eaten by shorebirds, who themselves are eaten by fish that could be consumed by humans.
“This is a considerable global problem that we’re really just getting a handle on,” said Steele. “We’ve known about plastic pollution on a large scale for quite some time, but people are really starting to focus on the microplastics.”
Steele and her undergraduate students began researching the topic of microplastic pollution by collecting sand samples from around the world, and in particular from Northern California and all the way to the Mexico coast.
“We’re getting samples of sand from Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, from South Africa and from Hawaii, and we’re finding this microplastic pollution in every place that we look,” said Steele.
Microplastic are, simply put, the remnants of the plastic bottles, bags, fishing lines, etc., that have broken down into smaller and smaller pieces rather than biodegrading into the environment, thereby creating pieces of plastic from half a millimeter in size to microscopic, unable to be seen by the human eye…
Dorothy Horn is a CSUCI senior studying environmental science and resource management and is one of Steele’s students. Since September 2015, Horn has dissected 125 sand crabs found on beaches from Alaska to San Diego and has discovered, thus far, that roughly 35 percent of them have “ambient fibers” within them.
Aside from being a danger to the animals that ingest them, Horn says these pollutants have a hidden danger to humans as well.
“In other species, invertebrates, mammals, they’ve shown to cause endocrine disruption, as in changes in hormone production,” said Horn, adding that increased hormones can disrupt reproduction. “If a little fish eats a little crab and so on up the food chain and then we eat the fish, well, there’s something called bio-accumulation of toxins that could have an effect on us.”
Toxins, says Steele, cling to plastics in the ocean like Velcro, creating a concentrated area of chemicals that leech out of the plastic.
Read the whole story here.
Anyone wanting a slightly shorter (than the hour long public lecture) and more technical overview of our microplastics work can check out this presentation (sorry for the lame camera work on my part) from a conference in Sacramento in November 2015:
Also, don’t forget our recent story in the Ventura County Star on microplastics.