Fish in microplastic infected waters are SIX times more likely to die

Fish living in microplastic infected waters are SIX times more likely to die because they are hungrier and take more risks when foraging for food

  • Researchers put damselfish in water with either low or high microplastic levels 
  • FIsh in more polluted areas are bolder, more active and have lower survival rates
  • Fish with a history of exposure to microplastics had a survival rate six times lower than those in unpolluted waters 

Fish that accidentally eat microplastics are six times more likely to die than those which don’t, a study has revealed.

Scientists have found that fish raised in waters polluted with the tiny pieces of plastic are bolder, more active and have lower survival rates than fish that live in normal water.

The effects are so pronounced that fcScroll down for video  

Researchers raised damselfish (pictured) in microplastic polluted waters then placed them on live or dead-degraded coral patches. They found those reared on microplastics or released into dead corals were bolder, more active, and had lower survival than controls

Previous studies had established that microplastic particles, pictured, can be ingested by humans and animals — such as via drinking water — and pass through the gastrointestinal tract

Researchers say they don’t believe this is due to any toxic effects the plastic has on the fish.

But it could be that the microplastics make them hungrier, and this ‘nutritional stress’ makes them more likely to take risks going out to find food.

As a result of this more risky behaviour, they are more likely to be eaten by predators.

Babies around the world are exposed to millions of microplastic particles a day which are produced during the preparation of formula milk, a study has found. 

British babies swallow more than infants in other parts of the world, with around three million fibres released from a bottle every day.  

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin found that polypropylene bottles release these fibres when exposed to extreme heat, such as from boiling water. 

Shaking the bottle to mix formula milk worsens the microplastic shedding, the research found. 

By the age of six months British infants fed on formula using bottles with polypropylene are exposed to an estimated three million microplastic particles every day

The team from James Cook University in Australia predicted that microplastic consumption might produce a ‘starvation’ effect within the affected fish.

During their study, they captured juvenile fish from the Great Barrier Reef and pulse-fed some of them polystyrene microplastics for four days before releasing them back into their natural habitat.

Their behaviour was monitored for three days, to see if the microplastics had any effect.

Results, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, reveal that the fish who had been exposed to the microplastics became more risk-prone and strayed further from shelter than the normal fish.

The analysis also revealed that 90 per cent of the fish that had been exposed to microplastics died during the three-day monitoring period after they had been re-released into the wild.

The study reads: ‘Fish that had a history of exposure to microplastics exhibited six times lower survival than those that had not been exposed to microplastics.

‘Fish exposed to microplastics moved further from shelter and took more risks, exposing themselves to the predators that have high feeding rates and are highly selective for junior fish that stray from shelter.

‘Exposure to microplastics for a relatively short duration is enough to alter their behaviour and survival.’ The authors add that the consumption of microplastics had as much of a detrimental impact on fish as living on a dead coral reef would.

Another recent study revealed that microplastics have been found in human organs after they die, which experts believe may get into our system after eating fish and drinking water from bottles.

The Daily Mails Turn the Tide on Plastic campaign is calling for more action to tackle the crisis.


According to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, our understanding of the potential human health effects from exposure to microplastics ‘constitutes major knowledge gaps.’ 

Humans can be exposed to plastic particles via consumption of seafood and terrestrial food products, drinking water and via the air. 

However, the level of human exposure, chronic toxic effect concentrations and underlying mechanisms by which microplastics elicit effects are still not well understood enough in order to make a full assessment of the risks to humans.

According to Rachel Adams, a senior lecturer in Biomedical Science at Cardiff Metropolitan University, ingesting microplastics could cause a number of potentially harmful effects, such as: 

  • Inflammation: when inflammation occurs, the body’s white blood cells and the substances they produce protect us from infection. This normally protective immune system can cause damage to tissues. 
  • An immune response to anything recognised as ‘foreign’ to the body: immune responses such as these can cause damage to the body. 
  • Becoming carriers for other toxins that enter the body: microplastics generally repel water and will bind to toxins that don’t dissolve, so microplastics can bind to compounds containing toxic metals such as mercury, and organic pollutants such as some pesticides and chemicals called dioxins, which are known to causes cancer, as well as reproductive and developmental problems. If these microplastics enter the body, toxins can accumulate in fatty tissues. 

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