Fifty-year study of microplastics ingested by brachyuran and fish larvae in the central English North Sea

Priscilla Carrillo-Barragan*, Clare Fitzsimmons, Hannah Lloyd-Hartley, Ashleigh Tinlin-Mackenzie, Catherine Scott, Heather Sugden

*Corresponding author for this work

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Microplastics (MPs) are ubiquitous pollutants in marine environments. Among the many detrimental consequences of microplastic pollution, its consumption by marine biota is of particular relevance for human health, due to exposure through the food web. Long-term time-series biotic samples are overlooked sources of information for microplastics research. These collections are extremely valuable for the detection and monitoring of changes in marine environments. However, there are very few long-term studies (>10 years) of the uptake of microplastics by biota. Here, we used Dove Time Series planktonic samples (from 1971 to 2020) to assess the presence and prevalence of microplastics in the English North Sea coast over time. Fish and brachyuran larvae were selected due to their commercial importance and consequent implications for human health. A custom enzymatic digestion method was used to extract microplastics for FTIR-ATR polymer identification. An increasing cumulative trend in MP ingestion was identified. Cellophane and polyethylene terephthalate were the polymer types found most frequently in both taxa. Although a total higher microplastics uptake was observed in fish, consumption was not significantly different between taxa over time. Equally, results were not clearly related to microplastics shape or polymer type. This work did not find significant long-term evidence on the increasing uptake of microplastic particles by zooplankton over time. However, the results of this report identified additives, plasticisers, and other more complex and hazardous compounds that should not be released to the environment (e.g., bis-(2-hydroxyethyl) dimerate, propylene glycol ricinoleate) inside marine biota. The study detailed herein provides a case study for the use of long-term time-series in providing accurate assessments of microplastic pollution in marine biota.
Original languageEnglish
Article number123060
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date2 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

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