Is there a creature more innocent than a fish? Not to start a philosophical debate about “intention” among non-humans, but reading this week that plastic pollution causes aneurysms and reproductive changes in fish, we felt bad for the fish. We also thought about its effects in humans.
A team of scientists at Duke University just published a paper in PLoS One showing that fish exposed to high concentrations of plastic pollution, in the form of microplastic fibers, “can experience profound changes to their respiratory and reproductive systems,” according to a summary at New Atlas.
Most research to date has sought to identify the presence of plastics in marine life, but haven’t examined the effects of that pollution. This study, conducted in tanks over a period of 21 days, looked at the impacts on actual tissues. The research team measured how much plastic fiber the fish ingested and excreted, the weight of the fish, and egg production.
The fish experienced “aneurysms and higher levels of mucus production in their gills,” the New Atlas article says. “The team also observed profound changes to the epithelial cells lining their gills, along with evidence that chemical coatings from the plastic material were making their way into the bloodstream.”
The researchers also found that female fish exposed to polypropylene, a common plastic used in synthetic clothing, produced more eggs. Scientists hypothesized that these chemicals may have disrupted the endocrine system of the fish.
“There were severe changes, and a lot of them,” said one researcher. “And each change can affect respiration. If you’re a fish in the wild with gill damage and you’re in a low-oxygen environment or being chased by a predator, you’re in trouble. The same goes if you’re competing with other fish for food. Just having these damages would cause you to be less competitive.”
Fish suffering the effects of clothing humans wear, and the way we wash those clothes – it just doesn’t seem fair.