A Great Lakes fish set a new record, and not in a good way. The brown bullhead had 915 particles in its body. This mind-boggling fish was hauled out by researchers in 2015, but their study has just been published in Conservation Biology.
Before being yanked out of the water in the name of science, the bullhead was swimming at the western end of Lake Ontario in Hamilton Harbor. The 915 particles included dyed cellulose fibers, microplastics and synthetic materials containing plasticizers and flame retardants.
“In 2015 we knew a lot less about microplastics and contamination in fish. I was expecting to see no particles in most fish,” said Keenan Munno, then a graduate student at the University of Toronto, as reported by EcoWatch. And while the bullhead won the trophy, all the other sampled fish also contained ingested particles.
For the study, researchers gathered 212 fish from three locations in Lake Ontario, Lake Superior and the Humber River, a Lake Ontario tributary. They found a whopping total of 12,442 particles. Even little minnows, most of which don’t even measure eight inches, contained up to 68 particles. Munno searched the fish’s digestive tracts for particles and counted them by hand.
The health problems microplastics cause in humans are still not entirely known. Researchers have connected them to cancer, neurotoxicity and immunity and metabolism disruption. Once the fish are full of microplastics, that pollution quickly expands its reach. Whether the fish are spread as fertilizers, served to Fluffy and Fido or turned into a fish fillet, the microplastics move beyond the aquatic ecosystem.
The University of Toronto Trash Team is trying to mitigate Lake Ontario’s plastic pollution. The team installed filters on washing machines to catch microfibers before they escape from the laundry room. They’ve also put sea bins in the lake to capture additional microplastics.
Lead image via Pixabay