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Researchers find microplastics in digestive system of birds of prey for first time

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Researchers reveal that birds of prey in Florida have been eating and drinking microplastics, and 86 percent comes from washing machine wastewater containing synthetic microfibers from cheap clothing

  • Florida researchers found significant amounts of microplastics in birds of prey
  • The research marks the first time anyone has confirmed plastics in birds of prey
  • They analyzed 63 owls, ospreys, and hawks and found 1,200 plastic pieces

Birds of prey are the latest addition to the growing list of animals threatened by unintentionally ingesting microplastics.

According to new research from a team at the University of Central Florida, several different birds of prey species in the region have been found with microplastics accumulating in their digestive sysmtems, including ospreys, owls, and hawks.

The team analyzed 63 different birds and found almost 1,200 pieces of tiny plastic trapped in their stomachs or intestines.

Past research has documented microplastics in whales, fish, oysters, and even humans, and the team worries the latest finding hints at how potentially disruptive the presence of microplastics in the environment could be.

‘Birds of prey are top predators in the ecosystem and by changing the population or health status of the top predator, it completely alters all of the animals, organisms and habitats below them on the food web,’ UCF’s Julia Carlin told Eurekalert.

According to the team, inadvertently ingested microplastics could cause a range of major health issues for the birds, including interfering with their ability to absorb nutrients from food or slowly poisoning them.

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, typically no larger the a pencil point, that break off from larger plastic manufactured goods.

They come from plastic bags and soda bottles, or laundry run-off mass produced clothing, which weave synthetic fibres with cotton to make clothes more durable.

Microplastics have also been found in a range of basic hygienge and beauty products like toothpaste, hair conditioner and facial cleanser, all of which regularly enter the water supply when people bathe or brush their teeth.

The team found the overwhelming majority of microplastics found in the birds–some 86%–came from synthetic microfibers like those found in mass produced cloths or cheap nylon ropes, which most likely entered the environment washing machine runoff.

The team suggests introducing new wastewater treatment tools to filter out microplastics and protect the birds.

‘We have all benefitted from the convenience of plastics, but plastics do not go away once produced,’ Walters said.

URBAN FLOODING IS FLUSHING MICROPLASTICS INTO THE OCEANS FASTER THAN THOUGHT

Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought, according to scientists looking at pollution in rivers.

Waterways in Greater Manchester are now so heavily contaminated by microplastics that particles are found in every sample – including even the smallest streams.

This pollution is a major contributor to contamination in the oceans, researchers found as part of the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world.

This debris – including microbeads and microfibres – are toxic to ecosystems.

Scientists tested 40 sites around Manchester and found every waterway contained these small toxic particles.

Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibres and plastic fragments.

It has long been known they enter river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.

However, although around 90 per cent of microplastic contamination in the oceans is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their movements.

Most rivers examined had around 517,000 plastic particles per square metre, according to researchers from the University of Manchester who carried out the detailed study.

Following a period of major flooding, the researchers re-sampled at all of the sites.

They found levels of contamination had fallen at the majority of them, and the flooding had removed about 70 per cent of the microplastics stored on the river beds.

This demonstrates that flood events can transfer large quantities of microplastics from urban river to the oceans.

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