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03 Dec 2013: Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds

Jezzdk/Wikimedia
Beach sediments churned by a lugworm
As plastic trash accumulates in ocean ecosystems, it may be damaging worms and other sensitive marine life at the bottom of the food chain, scientists report. Two British studies found that microplastics — tiny remnants, less than 5 mm in diameter, from the breakdown of plastic trash — made seafloor worms eat less and transferred pollutants from the plastics to the worms. Because they ate less, the worms had less energy to invest in important functions such as growth, reproduction, and churning sediments, one of their most important roles in the ocean ecosystem. The worms also absorbed harmful chemicals from the debris, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, researchers said. The plastic-laden lugworms, often called the "earthworms of the sea," are considered an indicator species because they feed on ocean floor sediments. Microplastics have been accumulating in those sediments since the 1960s, and, although each particle is nearly invisible, taken together microplastics are the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on the planet. Many other important organisms at the bottom of the food chain have the same feeding habits, including starfish, sea cucumbers, and fiddler crabs, and scientists believe those species may also be harmed by micro plastic pollution, as well.

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