Findings by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego revealed a startling discovery: nearly 10 percent of small fish sampled from the Pacific Ocean contained partially digested plastic.
By the scientists' estimation, 24,000 tons of plastic may be ingested annually by middle depth fish—mainly from accumulations of plastic formations in the ocean such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is roughly twice the size of Texas and made almost entirely of plastic. The Scripps finding are considerably lower than previous studies, like one conducted by Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which found plastic in 35 percent of fish sampled in the same area.
More than 9 percent of Lanternfish collected 1,000 miles from the California coast in 2009 had fingernail-sized semi-digested bits of plastic in the stomachs examined by the research team. With a margin for error based on some of the plastic making its way into the nets and eaten by the fish being caught, the researchers clarify the obvious: The amount of plastic found in the fish should be zero. "We can't tell how many fish ate plastic and died, how many fish ate plastic and regurgitate it or passed it out of their intestines," said one of the study's authors, Rebecca Asch, a Scripps doctoral candidate in biological oceanography.
Long considered a healthy alternative to meat and poultry because of high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, larger fish caught for human consumption commonly eat Lanternfish and other small fish, adding plastic to the list of concerns that includes mercury and other toxins making their way into the oceans and ultimately onto the dinner table.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger