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Plastics are being glued together in the ocean

08/02/2019

Plastics are being glued together in the ocean

Glue-like substances secreted by bacteria are sticking tiny particles of plastic together in the ocean to form larger masses.

The RealRiskNano project is funded by UKRI’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and involves researchers from Heriot-Watt University and Plymouth University. As part of the project, scientists used natural waters, collected from the Fore-Shetland Channel and the Firth of Forth, to perform experiments in an attempt to understand the behaviour of nano and microplastics in the marine environment. They found that these tiny particles joined with bacteria, algae and other organic particles within minutes.

Scientists believe this could lead to larger items being mistaken for food by marine mammals. They also fear this could alter the flow of food from the surface to the seafloor, potentially leading to deep sea creatures being starved.

Team member Dr Stephen Summers said:

“This is a first step towards understanding how nanoplastics interact with natural biopolymers throughout the world’s oceans. This is very important, as it is at this small scale that much of the world’s biochemistry occurs”

Professor Ted Henry, from Heriot-Watt University and leader of the NERC RealRiskNano project, said:

“The discovery and characterisation of nano and microplastic agglomerates increases our understanding of how these particles behave within the environment and how they interact with marine organisms. The agglomerates are much more complex than simple pieces of plastic.

Research like this is beginning to fill the gaps in scientists’ knowledge, but we need more evidence in order to prioritise and manage plastic pollution effectively”

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