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New Study Finds Fish Eating Plastic In Pacific Ocean

UC San Diego Researchers

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers spent three weeks near a huge patch of plastic called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

The scientific results come from a voyage led by a group of Scripps graduate students.

Floating debris found by the SEAPLEX expedition. The debris at the center of the North Pacific Ocean has the potential to damage marine life and alter the biological environment.
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Above: Floating debris found by the SEAPLEX expedition. The debris at the center of the North Pacific Ocean has the potential to damage marine life and alter the biological environment.

One of those student researchers is Rebecca Asch.

She said you might assume fish near so much plastic would eat some.

But not these fish.

"So we thought that since they are visual predators they would potentially be able to see the plastic and avoid consuming it," Asch said. "So it was somewhat surprising to find about nine percent of the fish are eating plastic."

Asch and study co-author Peter Davison estimate fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000- to 24,000 tons per year.

"I think it says something just about human impact on ecosystems that even these very, very remote places where there is very little direct human contact are affected by human activities and pollution," Asch said.

Specimens collected by the SEAPLEX expedition. Garbage is being studied for its effects on marine life.
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Above: Specimens collected by the SEAPLEX expedition. Garbage is being studied for its effects on marine life.

Asch and the researchers spent three weeks collecting fish specimens, water samples and marine debris at depths ranging from the sea surface to thousands of feet below the surface.

She said they studied 141 fishes spanning 27 species.

The new study did not look at effects such as toxicological impacts on fish and composition of the plastic.

She said the study looked at smaller fish which are part of the food chain for larger fish.

"So those larger fish are things that we eat, so, it's potentially a concern about how plastic and associate toxins can get into the food web," said Asch. "It definitely has implications in terms of the health of the ocean, the health of the species, But I think it's a little bit too soon to say that it's definitely getting into fish that we're eating, but it's a possibility."

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