Author(s): Browne MA
Plastics debris is accumulating in the environment and is fragmenting into smaller pieces; as it does, the potential for ingestion by animals increases. The consequences of macroplastic debris for wildlife are well documented, however the impacts of microplastic (< 1 mm) are poorly understood. The mussel, Mytilus edulis, was used to investigate ingestion, translocation, and accumulation of this debris. Initial experiments showed that upon ingestion, microplastic accumulated in the gut. Mussels were subsequently exposed to treatments containing seawater and microplastic (3.0 or 9.6 microm). After transfer to clean conditions, microplastic was tracked in the hemolymph. Particles translocated from the gut to the circulatory system within 3 days and persisted for over 48 days. Abundance of microplastic was greatest after 12 days and declined thereafter. Smaller particles were more abundant than larger particles and our data indicate as plastic fragments into smaller particles, the potential for accumulation in the tissues of an organism increases. The short-term pulse exposure used here did not result in significant biological effects. However, plastics are exceedingly durable and so further work using a wider range of organisms, polymers, and periods of exposure will be required to establish the biological consequences of this debris.