A new study on the Pacific Ocean’s floating trash indicates not only a significant accumulation of microplastics in the Hawaiian Islands, but that larval fish are eating the debris.
The research, conducted in partnership with Hawaii Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research centered on waters off the Kona coastline of Hawaii Island.
“The area is found to accumulate microplastic pollution at a rate higher than the North Pacific Garbage Patch itself, and the larval fish living in this nursery habitat are eating the trash that surrounds them,” a press release said.
The findings are published in the journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
“We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics,” said Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and co-lead of the study.
The concentration of plastic per square kilometer in the surface water slicks off of West Hawaii was eight times greater than in the North Pacific Garbage Patch, the study found.
The North Pacific Garbage Patch is known as one of the most plastic-polluted marine waters on earth.
“It is deeply concerning that concentrations in these hotspots in Hawaii exceed those in the Garbage Patch,” said Jennifer Lynch, research biologist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and co-director of the HPU CMDR.
Researchers dissected the digestive tracts of the tiny fish under a microscope.
“We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish,” said Whitney. Most of the particles were microfibers.
Lynch identified the chemical composition of the fibers to prove that they were man-made.
“The fact that larval fish are surrounded by and ingesting non-nutritious toxin-laden plastics, at their most vulnerable life-history stage, is cause for alarm,” said Jamison Gove, a research oceanographer for NOAA and co-lead of the study.
The CMDR’s goal is to help eliminate plastic waste from the ocean.
“The multiple, disturbing discoveries in this study spotlight the negative impact humans are having on our planet. We can make changes to reduce our impact, and these changes are needed now,” said Lynch.