Researchers found microplastics in the gut of an animal on one of the most remote islands in the world

By Ally Mauch
June 25, 2020 04:12 PM
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E. Bergami et al/The Royal Society

Scientists have found microplastics inside the gut of a small animal on one of the world's most remote islands in the Antarctic, according to a new study published Wednesday.

The discovery marks the first time microplastics have been found in Antarctica’s food chain, which is already fragile due to the rising threat of global climate change.

Microplastics are defined by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length.

Microplastics were recently found in a small invertebrate animal, officially called the "Cryptopygus antarcticus," that lives in the soil of the Antarctic. The traces of microplastics found inside these tiny animals, also called springtails, are indicative of a larger problem — plastic pollution may have "deeply" infiltrated Antarctica's food system, according to the study’s authors.

E. Bergami et al/The Royal Society

"Plastics are thus entering the short Antarctic terrestrial food webs and represent a new potential stressor to polar ecosystems already facing climate change and increasing human activities," the authors wrote in the study, published in the scientific journal Biology Letters.

The team of researchers from Italy and Ireland collected the samples from a piece of polystyrene foam on King George Island, just north of the Antarctic continent. They believe the springtails ingested the plastic while feeding on their normal sustenance, the moss, lichens and algae that covered the piece of foam.

Elisa Bergami, a researcher at the University of Siena in Italy who led the project, explained their decision to take the samples back for testing when speaking to CNN.

"I was anxious about plastic debris stranded along the coast because we wanted to understand the pathways of plastic in this remote environment," she said.

Another one of the study’s authors, Tancredi Caruso, told the outlet that their discovery raises concerns for the entire Antarctic ecosystem.

“For a long time, there's been some underestimation of the potential negative role of plastics in ecosystems," Caruso, an associate professor at University College Dublin, said.