"Plastics — when they end up in the ocean — are a sponge for chemicals already out there," says Rochman. "We found that when the plastic interacts with the juices in the [fish's] stomach, the chemicals come off of plastic and are transferred into the bloodstream or tissue." The fish on the marine plastic diet were also more likely to have tumors and liver problems.
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But mercury is just one of a slew of synthetic and organic pollutants that fish can ingest and absorb into their tissue. Sometimes it's because we're dumping chemicals right into the ocean. But as a published recently in Nature, Scientific Reports helps illuminate, sometimes fish get chemicals from the plastic debris they ingest.
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"A lot of people are eating seafood all the time, and fish are eating plastic all the time, so I think that's a problem," says a marine toxicologist.
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Plastic debris has been accumulating rapidly in the world’s ocean, roughly doubling every decade. In 2014, a global analysis measured ocean plastic at a quarter of a billion metric tons, much of it suspended in small rice-sized particles. More than 200 animal species have been documented consuming plastic, including turtles, whales, seal, birds, and fish. Seabirds are especially at risk; a study published last year by scientists in Australia concluded that . , an evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the toxic effects of plastic consumed by fish, called the study an important step toward understanding why marine animals are eating plastic.Scientists have long known that ocean plastic is consumed because it looks like food. Sea turtles, for example, often mistake flimsy, clear plastic bags for jellyfish. Other marine animals, including fish, gobble bits of rice-sized micro plastics broken down by sunlight and wave action because they resemble the small particles they normally eat. (.)It has long been known that both pollutants and plastic waste find their way into the ocean food chain, and wind up contaminating . But Lonnstedt’s Science paper went even further, claiming to demonstrate that young fish raised in environments high in plastic actually preferred plastic particles over natural food. after the study’s release, Lonnstedt said that for young fish, plastic could be compared to “unhealthy fast food for teenagers.”