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Fish Eat Ocean Gyre Plastic. That Means We’re Eating Plastic, Too

Floating microscopic litter in ocean gyres has become a food source for small fish.  When larger fish eat the smaller ones, plastic contaminants move up the food chain as well.

Research into the effects of ocean gyre plastic is ongoing, but there is a new––and disturbing–– avenue of research being explored.  Small fish, like the abundant lanternfish, are using the detritus as a food source.

According to a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, about 35% of the fish collected on a recent research expedition had plastic in their stomachs.  And even more alarming, while researchers expected to find that fish had consumed a few pieces of the denuded plastic––possibly one or two–– what they actually found was much worse.  Researchers found that many of the hundreds of lanternfish that were collected and dissected for the study contained around 80 individual pieces of ocean plastic in their bellies.

Lanternfish are deep-sea plankton-eaters who come to the ocean surface at dark to feed.  They are the most common fish in our oceans and the major food source for larger game fish like mahi mahi and tuna, which are in turn caught and consumed by humans.

For the study, researchers from the Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, together with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, trawled for lanternfish in an area known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, some 1,000 miles off the Southern California coastline.  Research into the effects of the floating debris on smaller fish has never before been documented.

Although larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles and containers, are eventually broken down into small fragments by tumbling waves and bleaching sun, it is unclear weather they will ever fully degrade.  Ironically, the smaller the fragments get, the more appealing they are as a food source to fish. The minute particles mimic the size, shape and texture of plankton that the lanternfish feed on, endangering the entire food chain, and posing health risks to humans.

The danger of discarded plastic to ocean life such as turtles, fish and marine mammals is well documented.  I can’t help but wonder, as we observe World Oceans Day today, now that a more direct danger of contamination to humans has come to light, will we be more aggressive in finding a solution to our ocean plastic problem?

About Sebrina Zerkus Smith

Professional writer, foodie. Lupus survivor. Loves pugs, wine, days at the beach and good movies. Takes recycling seriously, but not much else. Sebrina Zerkus Smith is a Southern Gal that has been scratching the writer’s itch for nearly 30 years. Her career began in Washington, D.C., in 1987, fresh out of collage and full of ideals. While plying her trade by day on congressional reps and senators, at night she burned the candle writing features for local newspapers and national magazines. She quickly realized that her southern upbringing gave her a unique and humorous voice that resonated with her readers. Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles where she pursued her dream of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. She paid her bills by working as a freelance writer for major marketing projects from studios such as CBS, NBC and Disney. Realizing that the future of writing lay with the internet, she was bitten by the blogging bug back in the 90’s, back before it was even called “blogging.” Then it was still just writing and trying to make a living. Through those early blogging years, Sebrina found passion and purpose. Over the past 10 years she has written articles for clients such as LightCues.com, MatterMore.com, Greenopolis, MacAddict, Yahoo, CNN and more. Today, Sebrina writes about a variety of topics including the Southern Experience, sustainability, clean water, food, gardening, sleep and her obsession with pugs. She is a regular paid contributor to WildOats.com as well as other entities. She now lives in Houston with her husband Jeff and their pug Newton. She hopes one day to complete her opus, Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.

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