The Research Group in Ecophysiology of Marine Organisms (EOMAR) of the Ecoaqua University Institute of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) has just published an article in the prestigious scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin on ingestion of microplastics in jellyfish of the species Pelagia noctiluca. The article is illustrated with a striking photograph taken by the researcher Alicia herrera in waters of Northern Sardine, in Gran Canaria, where you can clearly see a Pelagia noctiluca with a fragment of blue plastic inside. The image constitutes a milestone in the study of the impact of contamination by microplastics in this species, since for the first time the ingestion of plastic by jellyfish of this type in their natural environment, in the North Atlantic.
This research was conducted in the summer of 2019 when a bloom (large group) of jellyfish Pelagia noctiluca it reached the Canary coasts. For the study, 30 jellyfish were collected from Las Canteras beach and the microplastics inside (gastrovascular cavity) and those present in the tentacles were analyzed separately. In 29 of the 30 jellyfish studied, some type of marine litter of anthropogenic origin was found, that is, generated by humans. A large percentage were cotton fibers, but plastic fragments and remains of fishing nets were also found. 53% presented microplastics in the gastrovascular cavity, data that confirms their ingestion by these organisms.
Jellyfish are an essential component of marine ecosystems, so they can be an important vector for the entry of microplastics into the marine food chain, since they are the main prey for many animals. As an example, the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) can eat 73% of its weight of jellyfish daily. This study shows that plastics have already been incorporated into the food chain and that they represent a health risk not only for the jellyfish themselves, but also for the higher links such as turtles, fish, birds and marine mammals.
All these data only confirm the criticality of the situation regarding plastic pollution of the oceans. In addition, due to the current health crisis due to COVID-19, the use of gloves and masks has added a new problem, since these, if not disposed of correctly, end up reaching the sea and further complicating the situation.
From the association Latitude Blue, who has also participated in the study, warn that it is “urgent to become aware of this problem that causes thousands of deaths of marine animals a year, some of them in danger of extinction.” For this reason, they call for a rational use of plastic, as well as gloves and masks, and whenever possible, opt for reusable alternatives. The loss of biodiversity and the damage to ecosystems is one of the causes of the appearance of new pandemics, so, they remember, “if we do not take care of our environment, it is difficult for us to take care of ourselves as a species.”
Despite their apparent fragility and simple anatomy, jellyfish have inhabited the Earth for more than 500 million years and have survived great mass extinctions, so it is paradoxical that they now suffer the impact of pollution generated by some newcomers who have been on the face of the Earth for just over 200,000 years.
These conclusions are collected in ‘Marine Pollution Bulletin’, one of the most important scientific journals on marine pollution found in Q1 within the marine biology area with an impact index of 3.78. The article is signed by Jorge Rapp, as main researcher, May Gómez, Alicia Herrera, Daniel Bondyale-Juez, Miguel González-Pleiter, Maite Asensio and Ico Martínez, all of them members of the EOMAR group of the ECOAQUA University Institute of the ULPGC, in a work that had the invaluable support of the Latitud Azul Environmental Conservation Association and the Autonomous University of Madrid.