Brazilian biologists find microplastics in sea urchins

Two sea urchins next to each other, animal news
Sea urchins, photo: Hiwa via Canva

Marine biologists in Rio de Janeiro found that the impact of plastic pollution is far worse than they thought. They discovered a frightening amount of microplastics inside sea urchins during their diving research trips on the Brazilian coast.

Plastic objects dumped by humans in the ocean break down into smaller pieces that end up inside fish and other sea animals, researchers from the Urban Sea Institute and Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University said. Even sea urchins living in a supposedly clean area surrounding Cagarras islands had traces of plastic inside them.

“I knew I would find some [microplastic], but I never thought it would be that much. That sample I showed you from the sea urchin is from an area that we thought to be clean. That is our cleanest spot,” Raquel Neves, a marine biologist at Rio de Janeiro Federal University, told news agency Reuters.

“The goal of this project is to evaluate microplastic pollution in several ecosystems across Rio de Janeiro. We are using sea urchins as ‘sentinels’ because we believe the species serves as an indicator of this sort of microplastic contamination,” Neves said.

She added that with their research, they try to warn people that ‘this is wrong, wake up. There are still ways to turn this around, but soon there could be none. How long will we wait?”

The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) said that single-use plastic consumption increased during coronavirus lockdowns; the use of masks, gloves and certain types of packaging made from long-lasting single-use plastics.

The amount of plastic going into the ocean will rise from 11 million tonnes per year to 29 million tonnes per year if nothing changes, a study by scientists and industry experts for The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ predicted in 2020.

Brazilian locals like musician Marcelo Vieira are doing their bit by cleaning beaches. “It took me less than 10 minutes to find this much garbage,” he showed a Reuters reporter.

When asked how that makes him feel, he said: “I’m tense because we have to take care of nature. There is no way this keeps happening generation after generation, so whoever is here now has to take care of it so everyone can enjoy this beauty.”

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