Studies show microplastics are causing a negative impact to the health of the River Thames and its inhabitants - Royal Holloway University of London

Three of London’s major institutes, Royal Holloway, the Natural History Museum (NHM) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have been collaborating on research into how high levels of microplastics are impacting the River Thames, including seriously affecting its inhabitants, the water column and shoreline.

Separate new studies by Postgraduate students Alex McGoran, Katharine Rowley and Katherine McCoy, all from the Department of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, reveal that microplastics, are present in high quantities throughout the tidal Thames and are being ingested by wildlife.

Fibres from washing machine outflows and potentially from sewage outfalls, are most commonly ingested by wildlife; but fragments from the breakup of larger plastics, such as packaging items are most abundant in the water. “Flushable” wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming huge unsightly reefs. Although pollution from trace metals is now on the decline, the contamination of the Thames by plastic is a major issue.

The research of Alex McGoran1, NERC DTP PhD student (Royal Holloway and NHM) and supported by the Fishmongers’ Company Charitable Trust, reports how two resident estuarine species of crab, namely the native shore crab and the invasive Chinese mitten crab, are ingesting microplastics.

In total, 135 crabs were examined and 874 pieces and tangles of plastic, mainly in the form of fibres, were removed for their bodies. Frequently these fibres form tangles comprising up to 100 pieces of plastic and fill the stomach of many crabs which could reduce the urge to feed and leave the animals, with less energy for growth and reproduction.

About 95% of mitten crabs were found to have tangled plastic in the stomach. Although tangles were dominated by fibres, they were found to contain other fragments of microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.

Posted on: 21 July 2020

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