This report presents the findings of research undertaken by Portsmouth University on behalf of the Environment Agency to assess the potential impacts on fish of microplastics in the aquatic environment.
Each year approximately 245 million tonnes of plastic are used globally. This production volume, coupled with high durability, has led to widespread accumulation of discarded plastic in landfills and as litter in terrestrial and aquatic habitats worldwide. Once in the environment, plastic debris progressively fragments into smaller pieces. These minute fragments of plastic debris, termed microplastics (particles of plastics with dimensions less than 5 mm) can comprise as much as 85% of plastic debris in the environment. Manufactured microplastics from consumer products, such as cosmetics and industrial abrasives, also enter the aquatic environment.
Plastic debris, particularly microplastics, can be consumed by a variety of animals, including fish, which mistake particles for food. This may lead to blocking of the intestinal tract and/or starvation through stomach filling. There is also evidence that microplastics may act as a vector transferring potentially harmful chemicals through the food chain.
This research project used sticklebacks as a model organism in three experiments to assess the potential impacts of microplastics on fish.