Vancouver Aquarium study sounds the alarm about the effects of microplastics in local waters

WATCH: A new study by the Vancouver Aquarium sounds another urgent warning about the amount of plastics in our local waters. Linda Aylesworth reports.

A study conducted by the Vancouver Aquarium is raising the alarm about the effects of plastic pollution on B.C. waters.

The research published in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology suggests tiny microscopic animals called zooplankton are ingesting plastic particles at an alarming rate.

Dr. Peter Ross, head of the Ocean Pollution Research Program at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, is behind the study and says it’s bad news for the entire aquatic food web.

Microplastics are the barely visible plastic particles that can either be pre-manufactured or may result from the breakdown of lager plastic chunks.

The report focuses on microplastic particles found in copepods and euphausiids, two key species of zooplankton inhibiting the Northeast Pacific Ocean.

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The study found plastic in one out of every 34 copepods and in one in every 17 euphausiids.

Zooplankton represent a critical energy source in the world’s oceans and a vital food for many fish and marine mammal species, says Ross.

“Most salmon species feed heavily on copepods and euphausiids during their juvenile and adult life stages. The potential transfer of microplastics in the food web, from zooplankton to Pacific salmon that ingest them, would be a great concern given the importance of salmon in our regional ecosystems,” he says.

The particles could potentially block the gut of the marine animals that consume them or leach chemicals into their bodies, according to Ross.

READ MORE: Loblaw’s ban of microbeads, chemicals puts pressure on feds

It is estimated that juvenile salmon in the Strait of Georgia may be ingesting two to seven microplastic particles per day, and returning adult salmon are ingesting up to 91 particles per day, which would mean a big marine animal like a humpback could ingest more than 300,000 microplastic particles per day.

The study focused on Strait of Georgia, west coast Vancouver Island, northern Vancouver Island/Haida Gwaii and offshore Pacific.

The authors say the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the Strait of Georgia for both species of zooplankton.

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In March, Environment Canada announced it is studying the dangers posed to wildlife and the environment by the plastic microbeads found in shower gels, toothpaste and facial scrubs. The findings of the study will determine a federal-provincial action plan on the microplastics.

Meanwhile, NDP is calling on the federal government to list microbeads as a potential toxic substance.

Read the full report here: 

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