Many people are familiar with the plight of birds or whales that consume plastic bags. But you might not be aware how plastic harms some of the world’s smallest creatures – which can then have a domino affect on creatures further up the food chain. One scientist zoomed in on the exact moment plastic enters the marine food chain to dramatically demonstrate its threat to ocean life.

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Richard Kirby, a.k.a. the Plankton Pundit, filmed an arrow worm, a kind of plankton, ingesting microplastic to show the consequences of pollution even on a minuscule level. Kirby told the BBC, “Here we have something where we actually see that a tiny fiber has caused a blockage in something as small as a Sagitta setosa, a member of the plankton, stopping food progressing down. An arrow worm’s gut extends for the whole length of its body, so this has stopped anything moving down the gut from about just below its head.”

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Kirby has seen how microplastic can affect plankton in the past, but this is the first time he captured such a moment on film. The plankton consuming plastic isn’t an isolated incident either; Kirby said it was relatively common in the sample which he gathered in British waters.

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The ocean is filled with microplastic. One United Nations estimate puts the number at a staggering 51 trillion particles – that’s 500 times the number of stars thought to be in the galaxy. Plastic’s presence at the bottom of the food chain doesn’t bode well for larger creatures either. North West Wildlife Trusts senior marine conservation officer Emily Baxter told the BBC arrow worms are an important food source for squid and fish, and if arrow worms ingest plastic as seen in the video, that plastic could impact the food chain “all the way up.”

Watch the full video here

+ Dr. Richard Kirby

Via the BBC

Images via screenshot