Every single animal washed up on Britain’s shore that was examined by scientists in a new study had traces of plastic in its stomach.
In results that have been described as “ominous” by anti-plastic campaigners, all of the 50 beached seals, whales and dolphins included in the study presented microplastics.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) found that a staggering 84 percent of these microplastics had come from synthetic fibers, which are usually given off by clothes, fishing nets, and toothbrushes.
The rest of the plastic discovered inside the animals’ stomachs were tiny fragments that had broken off from larger items, such as plastic bottles.
Sarah Helms, lead author of the study, said the results were “shocking – but not surprising.”
She added: “We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.
“More research is needed to better understand the potential impacts on animal health.”
The species included in this study included bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, pygmy sperm whales, and white-beaked dolphins.
Dr. Penelope Lindeque, head of the marine plastics research group at PML, described the results as “disconcerting.”
The scientist said: “From our work, over the years we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at.”
The study, which was supported by Greenpeace, also found that animals who died of infectious diseases had more microplastics in their stomachs.
At the moment, scientists are not sure what this means for the effect microplastics have on marine wildlife, but Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter declared it was “not good news.”
After the worrying results were published, Louise Edge from Greenpeace UK said: “It is ominous that every single marine mammal tested was found to have microplastics in their digestive system, and it shows the scale of plastic pollution in our seas.
“This is yet more evidence that the government and big businesses need to focus their efforts on drastically reducing the use and waste of plastics, to stem the flow of plastic pollution into our rivers and oceans and into the mouths of marine wildlife.”
A Sustainable Seas Report published by the Environment Audit Committee in January called on the government to set stricter targets for reducing single-use plastic in the UK.
Responding to the Committee, Claire Perry MP said: “There are many ways to tackle the plastics problem.
“Clearly part of that is to improve recycling rates and there are consultations currently out there on the idea of deposit schemes—refunds for deposits.
“We have shown absolute leadership in banning microbeads, which is something that other European countries have not done.”