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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Nov 26;116(48):24143-24149. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1907496116. Epub 2019 Nov 11.

Prey-size plastics are invading larval fish nurseries.

Author information

1
Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Honolulu, HI 96818; jamison.gove@noaa.gov.
2
Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Honolulu, HI 96818.
3
Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI 96822.
4
Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI 96822.
5
Lynker Technologies, Leesburg, VA 20175.
6
Chemical Sciences Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Waimanalo, HI 96795.
7
Center for Marine Debris Research, Hawai'i Pacific University, Waimanalo, HI 96795.
8
Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85281.
9
Dragonfly Data Science, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand.
10
Marine Debris Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Honolulu, HI 96818.
11
Freestone Environmental Services, Richland, WA 99352.
12
Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA 92037.
13
SymbioSeas, Carolina Beach, NC 28428.
14
School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Menai Bridge, Anglesey LL59 5AB, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Life for many of the world's marine fish begins at the ocean surface. Ocean conditions dictate food availability and govern survivorship, yet little is known about the habitat preferences of larval fish during this highly vulnerable life-history stage. Here we show that surface slicks, a ubiquitous coastal ocean convergence feature, are important nurseries for larval fish from many ocean habitats at ecosystem scales. Slicks had higher densities of marine phytoplankton (1.7-fold), zooplankton (larval fish prey; 3.7-fold), and larval fish (8.1-fold) than nearby ambient waters across our study region in Hawai'i. Slicks contained larger, more well-developed individuals with competent swimming abilities compared to ambient waters, suggesting a physiological benefit to increased prey resources. Slicks also disproportionately accumulated prey-size plastics, resulting in a 60-fold higher ratio of plastics to larval fish prey than nearby waters. Dissections of hundreds of larval fish found that 8.6% of individuals in slicks had ingested plastics, a 2.3-fold higher occurrence than larval fish from ambient waters. Plastics were found in 7 of 8 families dissected, including swordfish (Xiphiidae), a commercially targeted species, and flying fish (Exocoetidae), a principal prey item for tuna and seabirds. Scaling up across an ∼1,000 km2 coastal ecosystem in Hawai'i revealed slicks occupied only 8.3% of ocean surface habitat but contained 42.3% of all neustonic larval fish and 91.8% of all floating plastics. The ingestion of plastics by larval fish could reduce survivorship, compounding threats to fisheries productivity posed by overfishing, climate change, and habitat loss.

KEYWORDS:

larval fish; microplastics; nursery habitat; surface slicks

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