Sea creatures may be eating all that plastic because it tastes delicious.
Original post on Grist
Poor dumb turtles and fish, always chomping on the ubiquitous plastic in the water by accident — or so the story went, until a handful of recent studies suggested sea creatures may actually be choosing to eat plastic. In one of these experiments, researchers took single grains of sand and particles of microplastic — both around the same size and shape — and dropped them onto coral polyps. The tiny creatures responded to the plastic the same way they would to a tasty piece of food, stuffing the bits of trash into their mouths like so many Snickers Minis.
“Plastics may be inherently tasty,” Austin Allen, a study coauthor and marine science doctoral student at Duke University, told the Washington Post.
Coral polyps rely on chemical sensors — taste buds, essentially — to determine whether something is edible or not. And they were repeatedly chosing to swallow plastic during the study. Only once in 10 trials did a polyp make the same mistake with sand. In fact, the cleaner and fresher and more plastic-y the plastic was, the more readily the coral gulped it down.
While the long-term effects of the plastic-saturation of the planet are still unknown, this research suggests that accidentally tasty microplastics could pose an extra hazard to already beleaguered corals around the world.