What are the effects of plastic particles on growth and mortality of marine organisms?

NEWS | 2014-05-05

Today, many plastic particles are present in the marine environment and can affect marine organisms in different ways. A systematic review of how, exactly, plastic particles in seawater affect marine biota has therefore been suggested by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SWAM).

Plastic in water. Photo: Paul Kennedy

Few studies have investigated the effects of the exposure of marine organisms to plastic particles, especially on a wider scale or at the population level, and so Mistra EviEM does not recommend conducting a systematic review at the moment.Since the first synthesised plastic came on the market in 1907, the versatile material has become one of the most widely used in the world. This is due to its low weight, high durability, and low lifetime costs. Meanwhile, the consequence of using a lot of plastic in our modern lifestyles is that large amounts of plastic waste have ended up in lakes and oceans over the past few decades. This problem has been recognised already in the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in 2008.

Most of the published studies on plastic particles in the marine environment (especially regarding microplastics, which are particles smaller than 5 mm) focus on their occurrence rather than on their effects on marine organisms. However, some published studies show that both large plastic pieces and small plastic particles can affect various marine organisms negatively, mainly through entanglement in plastic debris and ingestion of plastic particles by marine organisms. Nevertheless, most of the studies on the effects of plastic particles only consist of observations of single species, and therefore, their results are difficult to synthesise in a quantitative way. According to Mistra EviEM, consequently there is too little scientific evidence at present to conduct a systematic review on the effects of plastic particles on the growth and mortality of marine organisms.