Microplastics Pollute Rivers and Lakes, Too
By Kennedy Bucci and Chelsea Rochman
Until recently, these environments were described as conduits—ways for plastics to get to the oceans. But now we're seeing rivers, lakes and soil in a different light, as reservoirs for plastic particles.
In the past five years, researchers have started to study the sources, fates and effects of microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, but only a handful of studies have been done so far.
Microplastics in Our Great Lakes
Here in North America, when we think of freshwater, we often think of the Laurentian Great Lakes. They hold more than one fifth of the world's freshwater, are the basis of billions of dollars in economic activity and are a point of pride for those living on their shorelines.
For the Indigenous peoples of Canada, the Great Lakes hold even more importance. There are more than 75 First Nations communities in the Great Lakes watershed, all of whom fish the waters for food or sport.
It is no secret, however, that the Great Lakes have had their share of ecological problems. Most have been caused by us, including the ongoing issues of nutrient-loading, invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, tributary dams and reduced ice cover.
Recent research now shows the Great Lakes also contain microplastic pollution, with the highest concentrations in heavily urbanized areas, like Toronto and Detroit.
Plastic debris washed up on the shore of Lake Ontario, near TorontoKennedy Bucci, author provided
Another study found that a liter of sediment from the St. Lawrence River contained up to 1,000 spherical microplastics—on par with the world's most polluted marine sediments.
Contaminated Habitats, Contaminated Wildlife
Microplastics fill the digestive tracts of the wildlife that inhabit freshwater ecosystems.
In a Texas river basin, for example, 45 percent of captured sunfish had reportedly consumed microplastics. Another study found that 12 percent of gudgeons, a small bottom-dwelling fish, caught in a French stream had microplastics in their guts.
Closer to home, our lab has found that fish from the Great Lakes can have up to 40 microplastics in their digestive tracts. Many of these are microfibers—small strands of synthetic textiles, some of which come from our clothing.
In marine animals, microplastics can alter gene expression, cause inflammation in tissues and affect reproductive success. But we know much less about the effects in freshwater wildlife, which may be different from marine animals. For example, marine fish drink water, whereas freshwater fish absorb water through their gills and skin; this may lead to different exposure concentrations of microplastics.
Although some studies have examined population- and community-level effects, most have focused on the effects on individual animals. As a result, evidence regarding the effects of microplastics on populations of animals are scarce. We need to ask how these pollutants affect survival, reproduction and the interactions between species in a community.
Our lab is beginning to do just that. For example, an ongoing study is comparing the effects of a range of microplastics found in Lake Ontario, and measuring their effects on freshwater fish survival, development and reproduction.
Calling All Scientists
The oceans cover more than 70 percent of our globe. Still, the biodiversity on land and in freshwater is more than five times that in the oceans. In addition, the global population relies on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems for food, water and recreation. As such, microplastic research must include all ecosystems.
We are using plastic products at an unprecedented rate, and have already generated an estimated 6,300 metric tons of plastic waste. Although some of this is recycled, about 79 percent is accumulating in landfills or the environment.
Moving forward, we must invest in gathering more scientific evidence about the sources, fate and effects of microplastics in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. At the same time, we know enough about plastic pollution to act.
As Canada takes presidency of the G7 this year, we applaud our government, which has committed to take leadership in preventing further contamination of the planet by plastic pollution.
Microplastics Pose Major Problems for Ocean Giants https://t.co/lcBWdD434h #Microplastics @PlasticPollutes @Oceana… https://t.co/wKuncYvPUJ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517853475.0
Kennedy Bucci is a graduate student at the University of Toronto. Chelsea Rochman is an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.