The average amount of plastic waste dumped into the Mediterranean Sea each year is projected to increase. It has been widely recognized that plastic litter is a serious concern for the marine environment. Pictures of turtles entangled in plastic bags or dead albatross chicks surrounded by mountains of plastics are on everyone’s mind.

However, we know very little about the interaction between micro plastics with marine life. Micro plastics are pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5 mm and are the result of the degradation of larger pieces (plastic bags, bottles, etc.). Unfortunately, marine species seem to be ingesting these smaller pieces, causing pervasive effects on their health.

Cristina Fossi, the leader of the Plastic Busters project (an SDSN Solutions Initiative), has been working for over 4 years on this topic, conducting cutting edge research in the Mediterranean Sea along with expert advisor on marine litter, François Galgani.

plastic 4Their most recent papers present new data resulting from their most advanced research. These studies represent the first evidence of plastic additives (phthalates) in two different species: the Mediterranean basking shark and Fin whale. It therefore underlines the importance of future research both to detect the presence of micro plastics and also to investigate the toxicological impacts in these types of species. Due to the wide home-range and high-mobility of these species, which move in the whole Mediterranean basin all year round, they could represent a wide scale integrator of the ecotoxicological status of the entire Mediterranean. Moreover, because these species the lowest position of the food web, the results can be considered as an early warning of the presence of a mixture of contaminants in the marine food chain.

Click to read the abstracts from the team’s most recent published papers:

Monitoring the impact of litter in large vertebrates in the Mediterranean Sea within the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD): constraints, specificities and recommendations

Large filter feeding marine organisms as indicators of microplastic in the pelagic environment: the case studies of the Mediterranean basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)