The tons of plastic bags, bottles and doo-dads swirling around in the ocean have to end up somewhere. And in Hawaii, researchers are finding their non-biodegradable remains in the stomachs of fish — the same species that end up on many a dinner plate.
Nobody knows how toxic the plastic-eating fish are to humans, but Jeffrey Drazen of the University of Hawaii Oceanography Department has some concerns:
We have no idea if PCB’s [plastic chemicals] are high in fish in Hawaii just yet. I think something we should be looking for is increase in these contaminants over time.”
And it’s not just toxins from the plastic itself that we need to worry about. Plastics seem to act like sponges, absorbing pesticides and metals like lead and copper. Our plastic trash is killing the fish, and it’s unclear how it may affect the people who eat them. And unless we take efforts to clean our oceans, the problem seems doomed to get worse.
You’d think the plastics would simply float on the water’s surface, but scientists theorize that they develop a biofilm, making them dense enough to sink. That’s why even deep-ocean fish are ingesting these toxic materials — and seven out of 10 species tested had at swallowed at least some plastic.
The larger fish, in particular are gobbling up this sea junk in alarming numbers. About 60 percent of all the opah tested had plastic in their bellies, possibly because glowing bacteria coat the trash, making it resemble the food that opahs normally eat. But instead of providing nourishment, the plastic sits in their stomachs and leeches poisons into their bodies.
This video shows exactly how much plastic they’ve found in some of these fish — and frankly, it’s astonishing that the ocean critters are even able to swallow some of this bulky, sharp debris.