The Plastic Clyde

| February 2, 2013

plasticMarine life in the Firth of Clyde has been found to be riddled with pollution caused by ­plastic ­according to  marine biologists from the Marine Biological Station on the isle of Cumbrae who discovered that up to 80 per cent of flatfish and 60 per cent of hermit crabs in the Firth of Clyde have ingested tiny pieces of plastic. An earlier study found 80 per cent of prawns were contaminated.

The scientists also found significant contamination in sandhoppers suggesting the firth’s entire marine food chain is affected.

The findings, described yesterday as “deeply worrying” by several environmental groups who suggested the biggest culprits are plastic shopping bags, synthetic fibres from clothes, washed in through the sewerage ­system, and nets used by the fishing industry.

The scientists also believe most of Scotland’s firths which are surrounded by large towns and cities may have similar levels of plastic pollution as tidal ­ ­eddies mean the plastics are swept round and round rather than further out to sea.

Marine biologist Dr Phillip Cowie said: “Most research ­until now has been on seabed organisms like prawns, which are not fussy eaters. They eat anything. But now we have found plastic in other species too, which feed differently. There were high levels of plastics in flatfish and hermit crabs, and occasionally you find hermit crabs with fragments of these cheap, blue plastic bags in their guts.

“The fact that such a wide range of organisms can ingest plastic materials shows their pervasive nature. Many of the organisms studied are fed upon by other organisms, and these ‘persistent’ pollutants may be passed along wildlife food chains.

“It is probably not solely a Clyde issue. Many other industrialised or densely populated estuaries in the UK and internationally with high plastic ­input from sources related to the land and sea will have a similar issue.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “It’s deeply worrying to see that the threat posed to marine wildlife by microplastics not only remains but is actually growing.

The Marine Conservation Society’s Scottish projects officer, Anne Saunders said: “The amount of litter in the world’s oceans has been increasing year on year. Marine litter does not recognise political boundaries, and countries must work together to make our seas cleaner and safer.”

Harriet Bolt, Shetland ­Islands Council spokeswoman for KIMO, an alliance of European authorities working to eliminate marine litter, said: “The discovery of particles in species consumed by humans shows that, whether disposed of deliberately or not, we can’t ignore plastic pollution.”

The Scottish Government has set a target of significantly reducing marine litter by 2020. But plastics remain a major threat to the coastal economy and environment, according to the Marine Scotland agency study.

A report last year found that plastic makes up 62 per cent of the waste, up from 52 per cent in 1996. Common litter items such as plastic bags, food packaging and fishing gear have all been the subject of waste-­reduction campaigns. The ­report said a lack of improvement in levels of sea pollution threatened Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan.

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