Impacts of plastic debris on biota and implications for human health: A South African perspective

Date of publication 15 June 2020

Authors Naidoo, Trishan; Rajkaran, Anusha; Not available, Sershen.

Sources South African Journal of Science : 116 (DocId: 5/6)



Entanglement and ingestion of plastics are the main ecological impacts of marine plastic debris on marine biota, but indirect effects such as the transport of alien species and benthic smothering are also important to note. Entanglement of invertebrates, sharks, turtles, birds and marine mammals is mainly caused by macroplastics (>5 mm), and leads to reduced mobility, ineffective foraging and subsequent mortality. The main plastic types associated with entanglement are improperly discarded fishing nets, lines, ropes and straps. In South Africa and surrounding waters, plastic ingestion has been reported in a number of marine species: sharks (n=10), fish (n=7), turtles (n=1) and birds (n=36). Lethal (macroplastic) and sub-lethal effects (microplastic <= 5 mm) of marine debris on biota have been noted, but at the time of this review there were no published reports on impacts at the population level. Consumed shellfish are possible vectors for the introduction of microplastics into humans. The specific impacts of microplastic ingestion on human health are largely unknown, but additives associated with plastics represent a threat. The research infrastructure in South Africa is insufficient to monitor and characterise marine plastic debris and, in many cases, not in line with global standards. More research effort is needed to understand the impacts of marine plastic debris on humans and marine biota in South Africa, particularly at the population level.

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