A study published in Nature Communications, which is part of the Ph.D. research of Dr. Amanda Dawson from Griffith University, has revealed that krill have the ability to digest plastic. Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans found in the ocean. According to ABC News Australia, the research has discovered that krill digest plastics in the ocean unknowingly and break it down into smaller nano-plastics. The ability of the shrimp-like crustaceans to digest plastic has opened the possibility of various applications in dealing with pollution.
In the experiment, krills were fed brand new plastics and the crustaceans successfully digested it. This means the crustaceans could also break down old plastics as well, according to the report. Dawson insists that more work needs to be done to determine the utility of the discovery. The report says that plastics in the ocean are broken down eventually, but krill could speed up the process.
However, the research has also generated concerns that the breaking down of plastic to nano-particles is only making it available to smaller organisms that couldn’t have ingested plastics in the first place. This opens up the possibility of passing harmful substances through the food chain. In a report on DW, Willa Huston disclosed that the groundbreaking study raises many environmental concerns. Some of the plastic remains in the krill and the others excreted could end up on a plate. The ones in the body of the krill could end up in human tissues because the krill are eaten by bigger fish, which are then eaten by humans.
Huston sees this as a problem that casts some doubt on the idea of the research being “groundbreaking” because the possibility of micro-plastics eventually entering the food chain is disconcerting. Whether the krill digests the plastics into their body or excretes it, it may still end up in the food chain from all indications. But krill are not the only sea creatures that reportedly eat plastics. Some fish have been known to eat plastics from the ocean, according to The Telegraph. A study by the University of Ghent in Belgium says that seafood eaters may be ingesting 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year and the accumulation of these plastics in the tissues and organs of the body could be a long-term health risk.
Researchers are still looking for solutions to the problem of accumulation of plastics in the world’s oceans. This recent study on krill is one of such studies looking at alternative means to solving this problem. Research is also ongoing to determine if other crustaceans can digest plastics like the krill. The study of plastic-eating krill is exciting for researchers even though its significance in solving the ocean’s plastic problem is still uncertain.