Facial scrub in your fish

2014-11-08 00:00

THINK twice next time you use a facial or body scrub. You could end up eating it.

Many facial and body scrubs contain micro-plastic beads.

“Those are the scrubbers,” said Jone Porter, director of Sea World Education at uShaka Marine World. “And more and more guys are using them too.”

The sewage system cannot handle micro-plastics so they are eventually washed out to sea and eaten by fish.

“One fish eats another fish and so on, and the micro-plastics accumulate up the food chain,” said Porter. “The sardines and anchovies we eat have small stomachs and we eat these, so we are eating micro-plastics.”

A research study by Deborah Robertson-Andersson and Gan Moodley of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Life Sciences has shown that micro-plastics are increasingly being ingested by fish off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

According to their study, fish species taken from Durban Harbour, Vetch’s Pier, Isipingo, uMngeni and Mdloti river mouths contained micro-plastics. These included horse mackerel and mullet.

“Plastics take three to four times longer to pass through a fish’s gut,” said Robertson-Andersson. “The fish feels fuller and eats less. It may also use more energy pushing plastic through the gut and might also get blockages.”

The micro-plastics also attract persistent organic pollutants (Pops) that are known to have an adverse effect on human health. “The longer time in the gut allows the Pops to jump off and accumulate in fish.”

And when humans eat the fish?

“It’s bad,” said Robertson-Andersson. “But we are not sure how bad. It’s early days yet and we are not certain what the effect is.”

Not all micro-plastics come ready-made, they are also created by the fragmentation of larger plastic items that are gradually broken up by ultra-violet rays and wave action.

According to Porter, every large plastic item will become a micro-plastic.

“They get brittle, break up and get smaller and become ‘plastic soup’ — it’s a global problem.”

“Fish, turtles and dolphins will eat a lot of plastics. Fish think micro-plastics are fish eggs, while species like turtles that eat jelly fish see plastic bags floating in the water as jelly fish.”

Porter said turtles have “hooks” in their throats pointing downwards that help them swallow. “They are not able to regurgitate and plastic doesn’t go through their digestive system. It builds up in their stomach — they feel full and no longer eat. They literally starve to death but don’t realise it.”

Porter said that on two occasions turtles have died at the uShaka Sea World Rehabilitation Centre and when autopsied “were found to be packed with plastic”.

“Anyone who takes a walk along our beaches can we see have a problem,” said Porter. “We need to get away from the total throwaway concept.”

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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