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Ambio. 2003 Sep;32(6):380-4.

Origins and biological accumulation of small plastic particles in fur seals from Macquarie Island.

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Swedish Polar programs, Swedish Polar Secretariat, Stockholm.


One hundred and sixty four plastic particles (mean length 4.1 mm) recovered from the scats of fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.) on Macquarie Island were examined. Electron micrographs of 41 of the plastic particles showed that none could be identified as plastic pellet feedstock from their shapes. Commonly, such pellets are cylindrical and spherical. Instead, all the 164 plastic particles from the seal scats were angular particles of 7 colors (feedstock particles are normally opaque or white) and could be classified into 2 categories: i) fragmented along crystal lines and likely to be the result of UV breakdown; and ii) worn by abrasion (where striations were clearly visible) into irregular shapes with rounded corners. White, brown, green, yellow and blue were the most common colors. In composition, they came from 5 polymer groups; polyethylene 93%, polypropylene 4%, poly(1-Cl-1-butenylene) polychloroprene 2%, melamine-urea (phenol) (formaldehyde) resin 0.5%, and cellulose (rope fiber) 0.5%. The larger groups are buoyant with a specific gravity less than that of seawater. These small plastic particles are formed from the breakdown of larger particles (fragments). Their origin seems to be from the breakdown of user plastics washed ashore and ground down on cobbled beaches. Certainly most particles (70%) had attained their final form by active abrasion. It is hypothesized that the plastic particles were washed out to sea and then selected by size and consumed by individuals of a pelagic fish species, Electrona subaspera, who in turn were consumed by the fur seals. Thus, the particles were accumulated both by the fish and the seals in the usual process of their feeding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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