Microplastics are infamous as a contaminant, having reached the bottom of the ocean and even found its way into the stomachs of marine animals including sharks. New research published in the journal Environmental Pollution looked at how the presence of microplastics in shrimp affected the animal’s health and somewhat surprisingly found that it seemed to have no influence at all. They also investigated what effects microplastics might have on human consumption and concluded that shrimp should not be considered a contaminant of concern when it comes to plastic consumption.
A team from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) first analyzed a sample of deep-sea shrimp (Aristeus antennatus) to see how many were contaminated with microplastics. The results showed that three in every four shrimp contained synthetic fibers in their digestive tracts. For half of those contaminated, the fibers had accumulated and tangled into significantly sized balls inside their stomachs. They also found that location had an impact, as shrimp taken from the coast of Barcelona contained far more fibers than shrimp in other fishing zones.
The impact on the health of the shrimp, however, wasn’t clear as even animals with larger balls of fibers in their stomachs didn’t show any detectable signs of deteriorating health. The researchers analyzed the shrimps' organs for signs of tissue damage but found that even those organs directly in contact with the fibers didn’t show signs of injury. The researchers hypothesize this could be thanks to routine exoskeleton shedding enabling the animals to dump accumulated fibers.
The investigations into human health also yielded positive results, showing that shrimp posed very little risk to those ingesting them owing to the small deposits and the fact that shrimps’ stomachs are in their heads — a body part most people discard before eating these animals.
“The consumption of shrimp is in no way a contaminating agent that should concern us,” said study researcher and UAB lecturer Ester Carreras in a statement. “Other studies show that ingesting microplastics through shrimp is minimal in comparison to the amount of fibers entering our bodies through other means, such as the use of plastic packaging or environmental contamination, or through the synthetic fibers in clothes and also those found in dust and which inevitably also end up in our plates"
Next the team hope to research the same contaminants on common commercial fish such as red mullet, surmullet, and anchovies to see how, if at all, the influence of microplastics differs on both the animals and those who consume them.