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Transatlantic mission to study effect of marine plastic pollution

The creatures to be studied are zooplankton; these microscopic animals are at the bottom of the food chain. The aim is to review the effects of micro-sized portions of plastic that have ended up in the oceans as a consequence of human activity.

While zooplankton may not seem significant, they represent the start of a food chain that affects the status and abundance of fish and fish stock are essential to the global economy. The plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water.

The scientists are concerned that tiny fragments of plastic waster are killing zooplankton or affecting their ability to reproduce. The microscopic particles can easily be digested by zooplankton.

Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than 1 millimeters (or 0.039 of an inch) The plastic particles come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing and industrial processes. A further source is discharge of macerated wastes.

According to The Guardian, while scientists are certain that dangerous levels of plastic are building up they are uncertain as to the extent. For this reason the Atlantic Meridional Transect expedition has been established.

The boat, the RRS James Clark Ross, is currently heading out to the Atlantic. The boat will then divert south towards the Falkland Islands, collecting samples at various intervals. Then plankton will be captured in specially designed nets, going down to depths of up to 200 meters.

In a statement, Dr. Madeleine Steer, who works at Plymouth University and is part of the scientific crew said: “Studies have proven that zooplankton suffer side effects from ingestion of microplastics: increased mortality, not as successful at reproducing. In other species, there is a change in behavior that makes them more vulnerable to predation. Basically it’s not good for them, they’re going to die.”

The RRS James Clark Ross will arrive in Stanley, Falkland Islands on November 4, 2016.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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