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Plastic pollution is a growing global concern. Large pieces of plastic have been found almost everywhere on Earth, from the most visited beaches to remote, uninhabited islands. Because wildlife are regularly exposed to plastic pollution, we often ask what effects plastics have on the animals.
Over time, macroplastics (plastic debris larger than five millimeters in size) break up into tiny particles called microplastics (smaller than five millimeters), which can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
Macroplastics - Effects - Wildlife - Animals - Pieces
Macroplastics are known to cause detrimental effects for wildlife. Individual animals can ingest large pieces or become entangled in plastic items, such as fishing gear, and suffocate or starve to death. Although there is no question that macroplastics are harmful to wildlife, the effects of microplastics are not as straightforward.
While many studies find microplastics can affect the gene expression, growth, reproduction or survival of an animal, others conclude that microplastics have no negative effects. The lack of clear consensus makes it more difficult for decision-makers to enact effective policies to mitigate plastic pollution.
Dive - Research - Pollution - Wildlife
We recently took a deep dive into the research that has looked at how plastic pollution affects aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
We found that while macroplastics continue to cause detrimental effects to individual animals, they are also causing larger-scale changes to populations of animals, communities and ecosystems. For example, plastic pollution can introduce invasive species to new habitats by transporting organisms hundreds of kilometers from their native range, changing the composition of species in a community.
Effects - Microplastics - Studies - Review - Half
The effects of microplastics, however, are much more complicated. Of the studies we included in our review, nearly half (45 percent) found that microplastics caused an effect. Some studies saw that microplastics caused animals to have shorter lives, eat less or swim slower, and others saw changes in the number of offspring produced, and changes in the genes being...
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