"It's no secret that plastic pollution is one of the major threats to marine ecosystems, but we're learning now just how widespread that problem is," said Dr. Mauricio Seguel, a research fellow at the University of Georgia. "These samples are invisible to the naked eye. We want to understand factors that are driving their distribution and what this means for animals in the Southern Hemisphere."
The team examined the scat of 51 female South American fur seals on the remote Guafo Island, in southwestern Chile, from December 2015 to March 2016. Each sample's inorganic material was dissolved in a solution in a lab, leaving only the microscopic, plastic particles to be analyzed. Researchers then found 67 percent of the samples showed a remarkable abundance of microfibers, which until now had only been reported in animals fed in captivity.
Microplastics - Fragments - Millimeters - Microfibers - Form
Microplastics are plastic fragments smaller than 5 millimeters. Microfibers are the least studied form of microplastic. They are small hairs of plastic, less than 1 millimeter in size, from materials such as polyester or nylon and can end up in the ocean through waste water after cleaning, no matter how thorough the treatment. They also can absorb a wide array of pollutants.
The researchers believe the microfibers arrived at Guafo Island through changing ocean currents, before being consumed by plankton and continuing up the food chain through fish and,...
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