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Should we worry about microplastics in our seafood? By Christina Thiele, PhD researcher at the University of Southampton

Microplastics have received quite a bit of news coverage lately. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles between 0.0001 mm and 5 mm, and can come in different shapes such as microbeads, microfibres but also fragments. These particles end up in large amounts in the environment and are found everywhere in the marine environment. They can have started their lives as a larger plastic item that has broken into smaller and smaller pieces over time or by being released from personal care products (microbeads) or from our laundry (microfibres). Every piece of clothing that contains synthetic or semi-synthetic materials, such polyester, acrylic, rayon and nylon, sheds fibres when it is washed. It does not matter if it is a fleece or shell suit material – they all release microfibres. Wastewater treatment plants remove most of these particles, but it has been calculated that an average plant might still release 65 million fibres into our waterways per day!

When microplastics end up in the environment, many different species of marine animals ingest them as they might mistake them for their food sources. One of the concerns is that species of commercial value to us also consume microplastics exposing us to those particles as well. It is currently unknown if those microplastics are harmful for us but scientists are working very hard on finding it out! What we do know is that it is probably the smallest microplastics that are of concern for us. Microplastics smaller than 150 µm (0.15 mm) can pass through the tissue that lines out digestive system. Hundred fifty micrometres in size is about the same as the diameter of human hair. Particles of 1 µm (0.001 mm) or smaller have the potential of entering our cells.

Fish and other seafood have been in the news lately because microplastics were found in these marine products. However, there is no need to single out seafood and stop eating it because of those findings. At the beginning I said microplastics are found everywhere in the marine environment, unfortunately this is only half of the truth. Microplastics have also been found in mineral water, table salt, honey, beer and in the air we breathe. They are literally everywhere and because plastic is a durable material, they are here to stay. A report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, published in 2016, suggests that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. This can only be prevented by changing consumer habits NOW!

MIAB says- the Marine Conservation Societies plastic challenge is coming up in June so why not give it a try and see how much you can reduce your plastic consumption by!

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