Concerning microplastics find in Aussie seafood has 'implications for our health'

·Environment Editor
·3-min read

It may not be the news Australians recovering from their indulgent Easter feasts want to hear, but our seafood is becoming riddled with microplastics.

Flinders University scientists warn plastics are making their way into both wild-caught and farmed fish netted across the Southern Ocean.

Their research focused on common blue mussels, with images taken using a microscope revealing fibres and fragments inside their flesh.

Six microscopic images of plastic remnants in oysters.
Microscopic images show plastic remnants in mussels. Source: Flinders University

Samples were collected at 10 popular beaches across the South Australian coast, ranging from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island.

Study author Janet Klein told Yahoo News Australia it’s now clear that microplastics are present in intertidal waters where many of the nation’s top seafood harvesters are based.

"I wouldn't want anyone to feel alarmed, but we need to be really aware of how our use of plastic is impacting our beautiful environment and consequently this will have implications for our health."

Scientists reveal source of South Australia's microplastics

Low to medium levels of plastics less than 5mm in size were found inside the mussles, with higher concentrations of contaminants found closer to human settlements.

Aerial shot of seafood at a restaurant
Microplastics have been located in mussels caught on South Australia's once pristine waters. Source: Getty (File)

Using a process called fourier-transform infrared, the scientists were able to understand what sorts of plastics were found inside the mussels.

Single-use plastic types and fibres from synthetic clothing were detected, along with remnants likely shedded from fishing industry ropes.

Australians consuming massive amount of plastics

The research adds to growing concern about plastic fragments in the air, water and food chain.

When plastic enters the environment, rather than disappearing like compostable waste, it continues to break down into smaller pieces and enters the food chain.

"The area of microplastics studies is quickly growing as scientists around the world investigate the presence in all environments," Ms Klein said.

A map showing where the highest concentrations of microplastics were detected.
Scientists detected higher levels of microplastics close to human settlements. Source: Flinders University

While it was known that microplastics existed in beaches, along with Great Australian Bite deep sea sediment, Ms Klein's work has added to the global picture by shining the light on the state of South Australia's once pristine waters.

United Nations searches for solution to global plastic problem

Worryingly, no matter how remote scientists take their search, microplastics are still found.

In 2019, scientists estimated the average Australian consumes a credit card’s worth of plastic each week, but medical waste produced due to Covid-19 has likely increased the amount of plastics entering the food chain.

A study in the Journal of Hazardous materials revealed last year that Australians are likely eating one gram of plastic annually through rice consumption alone.

The United Nations is currently trying to tackle by creating a global plastics treaty, with a number of models currently being debated.

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