Plastic microfibers first found in wild animal faeces from South American fur seals


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For the first time, plastic microfibers have been discovered in the faeces of wild animals, obtained from fur seals in South America. The findings were made by a team of Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Georgia, who suggest that examining pinniped feces may be an effective way to monitor environmental levels of microfibers and microplastics in the ‘environment. Their study was published in the Marine pollution bulletin.

“It’s no secret that plastic pollution is one of the main threats to marine ecosystems, but now we are learning how widespread this problem is,” said Dr Mauricio Seguel, researcher at the University. from Georgia. “These samples are invisible to the naked eye. We want to understand the factors that determine their distribution and what that means for animals in the southern hemisphere.”

The team examined the droppings of 51 female South American fur seals on the isolated island of Guafo in southwest Chile from December 2015 to March 2016. Inorganic material from each sample was collected. been dissolved in solution in a laboratory, leaving only microscopic plastic particles to be analyzed. The researchers then found that 67% of the samples had a remarkable abundance of microfibers, which until now had only been reported in animals fed in captivity.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters in size. Microfibers are the least studied form of microplastic. These are small plastic hairs, measuring less than a millimeter, made from materials such as polyester or nylon and can end up in the ocean through the sewage after cleaning, regardless of the depth of the water. processing. They can also absorb a wide range of pollutants.

Researchers believe that the microfibers arrived on Guafo Island because of the changing ocean currents, before being consumed by plankton and moving up the food chain through fish and, finally, seals. There is not enough evidence to determine whether microfibers have adverse effects in mammals, but some studies have indicated morphological changes in fish.

Analysis of excreta, the team noted, could be a good tool to monitor marine mammal exposure to plastics because it is effective and non-invasive, poses no danger to the researcher or the animal, and it is easy to identify both sea lions and their droppings. Dr Seguel says his colleagues are performing similar follow-up tests in other parts of South America.

“It is not too late to act to heal our oceans, but one of the first steps is to determine how much we have damaged the ecosystem through our activities, such as the production and disposal of plastic,” said said Dr Kelly Diehl, Acting Vice President of the Morris Animal Foundation. President of scientific programs. “Studies like these will help us learn these answers so we can start making better decisions about the health of marine life.”

The Morris Animal Foundation funded further studies of fur seals on Guafo Island with Dr Seguel’s team. One of them found that factors that contributed to the deaths of South American fur seal pups included mites, pneumonia, and changes in sea surface temperature. researchers have found that hookworms feed at a constant rate on their pup seal hosts before they produce eggs and die, a strategy that also often kills the young.

Hookworms use fast life / die young strategy in fur seal pup hosts, study finds

More information:
Angela Toepp et al, Randomized, controlled, double-blind field trial to evaluate the efficacy of Leishmania vaccine as immunotherapy for canine leishmaniasis, Vaccine (2018). DOI: 10.1016 / j.vaccine.2018.08.087

Provided by Morris Animal Foundation

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