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Another Reason to Ditch Plastic—It Smells Like Food to Fish

Animals
Anchovies are eating plastic because it smells like prey, study finds. Photo credit: David Abercrombie/Flickr

We know that the massive amount of plastic that's continually dumped into our oceans can end up in the stomachs of marine species (and ultimately on our plates), but why would they want to eat it?

Well, new research suggests that fish are not just accidentally gobbling up our plastic trash—they could be actively seeking it out because they like how the debris smells and are confusing it for their natural prey.


The study, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, presents "the first behavioral evidence that plastic debris may be chemically attractive to marine consumers."

"These chemical cues may lure consumers, such as anchovy, into regions of high plastic density and activate foraging behaviors, thus making it difficult to ignore or reject plastic items as potential prey," the paper states.

As New Scientist explains from the study, when plastic enters the ocean, the debris gets quickly covered by algae and releases an odor similar to krill, the natural prey for certain fish such as anchovies. The smell of the plastics then sets off the anchovies' foraging and feeding behavior.

Matthew Savoca, from the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Monterey, California and the lead author of the study, told to the Guardian, "When plastic floats at sea its surface gets colonized by algae within days or weeks, a process known as biofouling. Previous research has shown that this algae produces and emits DMS, an algal based compound that certain marine animals use to find food. [The research shows] plastic may be more deceptive to fish than previously thought. If plastic both looks and smells like food, it is more difficult for animals like fish to distinguish it as not food."

And yes, the study also suggests that since these fish are confusing plastics for food, it could impact species that are higher up on the food chain, including humans.

"Given the trophic position of forage fish, these findings have considerable implications for aquatic food webs and possibly human health," the authors conclude.

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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