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Fish made from plastic waste collected from a small section of beach.

Plastic beach

Since I interviewed Daniella Hodgson for HOT street style about two years ago, she has been very busy, writes Bevali Francis. After studying marine biology and coastal ecology at Plymouth University and leaving with a first class honours degree, she has just returned from a trip to South Africa where she was assisting in a study of great white sharks.

Daniella has written a paper on Plastic ingestion and fragmentation by Orchestia gammarellus. Or in terms I can understand, she studied sand hoppers and what they eat.

Daniella started experiments with sand hoppers because she was very concerned with the devastating effect plastic is having on the world’s environments.

We have all seen the odd plastic bag floating in sea but have we ever thought of the implications that bag can have? I am aware that turtles and other marine creatures often eat bags mistaking them for jelly fish; unfortunately eating the plastic can result in killing the animals. I did not realise sea birds are also vulnerable to eating the plastic and their stomachs can often be full of plastic, which is usually discovered after the birds are found dead.

Daniella has discovered these smaller sea creatures are devouring plastic too. She conducted a controlled experiment on sand hoppers and different kinds of plastic. Disturbingly these small creatures feed on the microscopic material that colonises the plastic over time in the marine environment along with the plastic itself.  It seems they will ingest all types of plastic as they feed. The sand hoppers do not retain the plastic in their bodies but excrete it as micro-plastic. This can have serious implications in the increase of plastic fragments in the marine environment and in the bioaccumulation of plastics in the food chain.

“The effects of plastic in the food chain could be devastating for numerous reasons,” Daniella tells me. “Not only can plastic ingestion cause direct effects such as blockages and lacerations, plastic can also absorb harmful chemicals such as PCBs and heavy metal which have the potential to be transferred into the animals who ingest them. This could lead to increased risk of disease and reproductive disorders and could ultimately lead to death.”

Worryingly global plastic production has rapidly increased since the 1950s. Polyethylene, one of the plastics used in Daniela’s experiments, can take more than 100 years to degrade and 50-80% of the total marine litter is plastic. To protect our marine environment and ultimately our planet we need to take steps to halt the epidemic of plastic litter in the sea.

“We can do this by changing very simple things in our everyday lives,” says Daniela. “If we limited how many products we buy wrapped in plastic, lessen our plastic usage by using long-life fabric bags and dispose of our litter to make sure it does not end up where it can be eaten by wild life, we can all help lessen the impact plastic is having on our environment. If we can all make small lifestyle changes, maybe we can all help towards protecting our seas”.

Posted 12:57 Sunday, Feb 1, 2015 In: Clean Seas Please!

Also in: Clean Seas Please!

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