Chemical Effects from Plastic Ingestion

The chemical substances added during manufacture or adsorbed to plastics at sea are an additional source of concern in terms of sublethal effects. Potential chemical impacts from the ingestion of plastic are not exhaustively discussed in this chapter, as chemical transfer and impacts are discussed in more detail in the contributions by Koelmans (2015) and Rochman (2015). We would like to stress, however, that in larger organisms, plastics often have a long residence time, during which objects may be fragmented to smaller sizes due to mechanical or enzymatic digestive processes. In such conditions, the chemical additives may play a more prominent role than chemicals adsorbed to the surface. We conclude that although research to quantify body burden and consequences of plastic-derived chemicals in

marine organisms is still in its infancy, there is a risk to species frequently ingesting synthetic debris. This will remain a complicated issue due to the widespread presence of many chemicals and their accumulation in marine foodwebs along routes other than plastics alone.

Chain of Impacts Related to Plastic Ingestion

By ingesting plastics, marine biota, and in particular seabirds, accidentally facilitate and catalyse the global distribution of plastic through bio-transportation. Studies of polar tubenosed seabirds returning to clean breeding areas after overwintering in more polluted regions are a good example. Similarly, Van Franeker and Bell (1988) found that cape petrels (Daption capense) process and excrete some 75 % of their initial plastic load by grinding particles in the gizzard during one month in Antarctica. Plastics are thus excreted as smaller particles in other places than where they were taken up and become available to other trophic levels in marine and terrestrial habitats. Similar data were obtained for northern fulmars and thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) in the Canadian high Arctic (Mallory 2008; Provencher et al. 2010, Van Franeker et al. 2011). In the Antarctic, Van Franeker and Bell (1988) also found that 75 % of Wilsons storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) chicks that died before fledging had plastics in their stomachs, fed to them by their parents and now permanently deposited around Antarctic breeding colonies. Transport of materials may be considerable. Van Franeker (2011) calculated that northern fulmars in the North Sea area (plastic incidence 95 %, average number 35 plastic items, average mass 0.31 g per bird) annually reshape and redistribute ca. 630 million pieces or 6 t of plastic. As fulmars range over large areas, widespread secondary distribution of plastics will occur. Chemicals may be brought to other environments by seabirds (Blais et al. 2005)—potentially partly linked to plastics. From an average plastic mass of 10 g in healthy Laysan albatross chicks on Midway Atoll to about 20 g in chicks that died (Auman et al. 1997) it may be conservatively estimated, that this species with locally ca. 600,000 breeding pairs, annually brings ashore some 6 t of marine plastic debris. Also, some crustaceans reshape and redistribute plastics: Davidson (2012) showed that boring crustacean Sphaeroma sp. could release into the environment thousands of small particles per burrow. One of the open questions is how plastic items reach the deep sea despite their low density and therefore low sinking rates. Along with increased density by fouling processes (Ye and Andrady 1991) plastic may also be transported to the deep sea either through sinking of carcasses containing plastics, in marine snow (Van Cauwenberghe et al. 2013) or repackaged in the faeces of zooplankton (Cole et al. 2013) or other pelagic organisms. Vertical export may also be facilitated by migratory behaviour of mesopelagic fish in the water column, which had fed on plastic items (Choy and Drazen 2013). Thus, marine life is as a significant factor in the environmental production and redistribution of secondary microplastics.

Impacts from Species Dispersal

One of the potentially deleterious effects of marine debris is that it offers opportunities for the dispersal, or 'hitch hiking' of species around the world. Organisms can colonise non-degradable material and be transported by the currents and winds. Once settled in a new habitat, this can lead to massive population growth of 'alien species' that can outcompete original ecosystem components (Kiessling et al. 2015). Oceanic plastics can also provide new or increased habitat opportunities for specialized species such as ocean skaters (Goldstein et al. 2012; Majer et al. 2012) or whole pelagic or benthic communities (Goldberg 1997; Bauer et al. 2008; Zettler et al. 2013; Goldstein et al. 2014). For more details on hitch-hiking species see Kiessling et al. (2015).

 
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