Scientists have found toxic bacteria on microplastics in waters around Singapore. The bacteria are believed to be one of the culprits behind coral bleaching. They have also been known to cause wound infections in people.
Researchers working out of the National University of Singapore (NUS) discovered over an alarming 400 varieties of bacteria on a little less than 300 pieces of microplastics. The samples, which are only around 5 mm in size, were taken from three coastlines in the region: Changi Beach, Sembawang Beach and Lazarus Island.
According to The Straits Times, scientists located the toxic bacteria through DNA sequencing. Once the results were in, they discovered traces of photobacterium, which has been linked to coral bleaching, and a species called vibrio, which is known to cause infections in wounds. The team also found traces of arcobacter, a microorganism that has been linked to gastroenteritis.
“As the microplastics we studied were collected from locations easily accessible to the public and in areas widely used for recreation, the identification of potentially pathogenic bacteria is important in preventing the spread of diseases,” Emily Curren, part of the team at NUS, explained in the report.
Curren noted that the majority of microplastics came from straws and disposable utensils, such as spoons and forks. These plastics biodegrade in a few hundred years and serve as vehicles that transport toxic bacteria around the world. Not only can these affect human populations by getting in the water supply, but microplastics are ingested by marine animals, many of which are later consumed by people.
Sandric Leong, who led the research effort at NUS’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, added that microplastics are one of the most popular forms of plastic pollution in the ocean. Organisms in these environments accidentally ingest the microplastics, which is how toxic bacteria could end up on dinner plates around the world.
Leong explained how more research in microplastic distribution is needed to better understand how to manage this worldwide problem. The biggest way to combat microplastics, of course, is to decrease our use of non-biodegradable plastics and cut down on how much plastic ends up in landfills.
Image via Shutterstock