03 Dec 2013:
Microplastic Pollution Harms
Worms at Bottom of Food Chain, Study Finds
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.
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
e360 on Facebook
Donate to e360
View mobile site
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our feed:
Yale Environment 360
articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia
, the online educational network. Visit the site.
Business & Innovation
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Antarctica and the Arctic
Central & South America
Photographer Peter Essick documents the swift changes wrought by global warming in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung places. View the gallery.
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile
The Warriors of Qiugang
, a Yale Environment 360
video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
Watch the video.
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland
. © Google & TerraMetrics.
In a Yale Environment 360
video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.