Plastic nurdles in the sea are stopping urchins from developing properly, according to a new study. The study, published in the Science of the Total Environment, found that the chemicals in the nurdles leach out and cause fatal developmental abnormalities in sea urchins.
Source: Fauna & Flora International/YouTube
For the study, scientists placed fertilized urchin eggs in seawater that had varying levels of plastic to compare the effects of plastic pellets or ‘nurdles’ on the animals. They used fragments found washed up on Watergate Bay in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.
The researchers found that the sea urchin larvae that were raised in water that was contaminated by pellets brought from a plastic manufacturer developed significant abnormalities in all three concentrations that were tested. The urchins that were raised in water contaminated by nurdles that were collected from Watergate Bay also died at the highest concentrations.
The team of researchers from Anton Dohrn Zoological Station and National Biodiversity Future Center in Italy and the University of Exeter in the UK has previously discovered that plastic additives can harem sea urchin larvae, The Guardian reported. This new study now reveals how the damage shows.
“The larvae affected by plastic pollution showed developmental abnormalities including malformation of the skeleton, neural and immune cells,” said Dr. Eva Jimenez-Guri, from the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station and the University of Exeter.
“They also showed ‘radialisation’ – meaning they lacked proper symmetrical structure, and were instead largely formless and therefore unable to survive.”
A nurdle is a small, lightweight plastic pellet that is the basic building block of nearly all plastic products. Nurdles are produced from natural gas or oil and shipped to plastic factories around the world. They are melted and poured into molds for things like water bottles, food packaging, auto parts, medical devices, and countless other products.
“Even if plastic is not killing animals by ingestion or entanglement, it can also kill animals by the chemicals in it or on it,” Jimenez-Guri said.
“Our findings point to clear and specific detrimental effects of marine plastic pollution on the development of sea urchin larvae,” she said.
We use countless billions of nurdles every year, but many end up washing up on our shores. According to a comprehensive report about stopping ocean plastic pollution, researchers found that an estimated 200,000 metric tons of nurdles end up in oceans every year. The beads are so light, only about 20 milligrams each, that they easily can be carried with the wind. According to the Nurdle Hunt, nearly 230,000 tonnes of nurdles pollute our oceans every year, which is billions and billions of nurdles.
Nurdles are not biodegradable, but over time they do deteriorate. According to the Breaking The Plastic Wave report, nurdles are now the second-biggest source of ocean microplastics after tire dust. These pellets can even change the temperature or permeability of sand, which affects many animals that incubate their eggs on beaches, like sea turtles.
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