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Microplastics Are Killing Baby Fish, New Study Finds
Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have found that young fish basically like eating microplastics as much as teenagers like eating fast food.
For the study, published this week the journal Science, European perch embryos and larvae from the Baltic Sea were placed into lab aquariums with varying levels of polystyrene microplastics, including concentrations currently seen in nature.
Alarmingly, the researchers discovered that larval perch living in high concentrations of microplastic particles preferred to eat plastic over plankton, which are their natural food sources.
“This is the first time an animal has been found to preferentially feed on plastic particles, and is cause for concern,” Peter Eklöv, co-author of the study, told the Guardian.
Lead author Dr. Oona Lonnstedt described that the fish were drawn to the plastic over real food.
"They all had access to zooplankton and yet they decided to just eat plastic in that treatment. It seems to be a chemical or physical cue that the plastic has, that triggers a feeding response in fish," Lonnstedt told BBC News.
"They are basically fooled into thinking it's a high-energy resource that they need to eat a lot of. I think of it as unhealthy fast food for teenagers, and they are just stuffing themselves."
Also in the study, the researchers found that young perch living in high concentrations of microplastics were smaller and less active compared to fish reared in average concentrations of microplastic particles. These fish also tended to ignore the chemical signals that would normally warn them of predators.
When predators were introduced into the lab tanks, the perch exposed to microplastics were eaten by pike four times more quickly than their naturally-reared relatives. All of the plastic-exposed fish in the study were dead within 48 hours, the Guardian noted.
According to the study, exposure to microplastics also reduced rates of hatching and development into maturity. About 96 percent of the eggs successfully hatched in environments without microplastics, compared to 81 percent for those exposed to large quantities.
Because plastics are non-biodegradable, when large pieces enter our waterways, they eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces, or microplastics. Incidentally, these tiny pieces of trash make up the bulk of the plastic soup in our waters, with the little pieces found in ice cores, across the seafloor, vertically throughout the ocean and on every beach worldwide. Fish and plankton often mistake these particles for food.
Lönnstedt warned that "if early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound.”
As EcoWatch mentioned previously, microplastics are also very absorbent, meaning they pick up the chemicals it floats in. So we don’t just have to worry about the plastic itself that the fish are eating but all of the contaminants in that plastic as well. That goes for us, too, if we eat a fish that’s eaten plastic particles.
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"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
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- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›