June 13, 2021

Nine out of ten marine turtles studied have microplastics in their body


Ugwu Hernández in the laboratory of the EOMAR group in the Faculty of Marine Sciences of the ULPGC.

Ugwu Hernández in the laboratory of the EOMAR group in the Faculty of Marine Sciences of the ULPGC.
Ico Martinez.

An investigation of the ULPGC reviews for the first time studies on ingestion of plastic particles on marine vertebrates revealing a great impact on all of it. The result of the study, entitled ‘Microplastics in marine biota: a review’, has recently been published in the prestigious international scientific journal on marine pollution ‘Marine Pollution Bulletin’. The article has been produced by the Research Group on Ecophysiology of Marine Organisms (EOMAR) belonging to the Ecoaqua University Institute (IU-Ecoaqua) of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC). The study makes an exhaustive and in-depth review of more than a hundred bibliographic references, showing the enormous impact of these particles in all the studied species, especially in the turtles.

The study, based on the final master’s thesis of Kevin Ugwu Hernandez, used 132 studies from around the world, some of them carried out in the Canary Islands, to define the type, size, polymer and predominant color of microplastics in 4 large groups of vertebrates (seabirds, marine mammals, turtles and fish) .

The research, tutored by May Gómez Cabrera, professor of Zoology at the ULPGC and head of the EOMAR group at the Ecoaqua Institute and by Alicia Herrera Ulibarri, a researcher at the EOMAR group awarded the first prize of the ULPGC Telephone Chair in 2020 for her research on the pollution of the sea by microplastics, served to obtain the title of the Master of Oceanography from the ULPGC to Ugwu Hernández.

In light of the data obtained, the review research reveals a “large impact” of microplastic particles (less than 5 millimeters) on marine biota. Turtles are the group of this biota with the highest incidence of microplastics in their body with an average of 122 particles per individual and 88% of the total studied. It is followed by marine mammals, among which microplastics were found in 59% of the sample with an average of 10 particles per individual.

Seabirds, with polymers in 50% of the specimens studied and with an average of 7 particles per individual, and fish, with microplastics found in 42% of the specimens investigated and with an average of 3 particles per individual, close this ranking on the impact of these materials of human origin in the marine vertebrates of all the oceans and seas of the planet.

The study also reveals that most of the microplastics came from fibers, in 67.3% of the articles analyzed, while another 25.7% of the studies indicated that the origin of such particles were fragments. One circumstance that indicates failures in water purification systems since most of the microfibers found in investigations around the world in the marine environment have their origin in poorly managed and purified wastewater.

To carry out this extensive review of bibliographic references on studies in marine vertebrates, the signatories of the work, Kevin Ugwu, Alicia Herrera and May Gómez, used the Web of Science (WOS) reference search engine, finding a total of 1,345 articles published throughout the world on the incidence of microplastics in the 4 large vertebrate marine groups. 213 of them were used to analyze the temporal and spatial trend of the investigations and 132 for the aforementioned purposes.

On the other hand, 73.6% of the articles published and analyzed in this ULPGC study describe microplastics with sizes smaller than 2 millimeters, something that for the EOMAR researchers indicates processes of rapid fragmentation of microplastics. A fatal circumstance since the small dimensions of the particles facilitate the entry of these materials of human origin into living organisms to a greater degree.

The EOMAR group study constitutes the first large comprehensive review in the history of modern marine biology of studies on microplastic ingestion in all marine groups to define size, color, type and predominant polymer. In addition, it is also the first time that microplastics analysis organs have been studied, the use of advanced technologies for their measurement and the use of QA / QC procedures that prevent secondary contamination of samples.

The findings of this study confirm that plastic pollution is, without a doubt, one of the biggest problems that marine ecosystems must face. The researchers who signed the article urge the administrations and corporations involved to urgently implement “real and decided policies” that minimize the continued use of plastics by citizens. In addition, they consider “necessary” the involvement and participation of the world population as a whole in order to develop habits “more respectful” with the environment, especially those related to the reduction of plastics.

Kevin Ugwu Hernández has a degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of La Laguna with a specialty in Auditing and Management of the Natural Environment. He studied the master’s degree in Oceanography from the ULPGC, where he associated with the EOMAR research group of the IU-ECOAQUA, to carry out his final master’s work. He has presented papers at various national and international congresses, including the VII International Symposium on Marine Sciences. Currently his line of research focuses on the study of the impact of microplastics on marine biota.

‘Marine Pollution Bulletin’, the publication that gave birth to this article, is one of the most relevant scientific journals on the planet on marine pollution. It is located in Q1 within the framework of the area of ​​marine biology and has an impact index of 4,049.

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