It's no surprise to scientists that humans are unknowingly eating their garbage. As former University of Washington oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer, tracker of floating shoes and body parts, toldSW in 2008, floating oceanic garbage patches that include refrigerators, TVs, computer screens, tires, smashed-up yachts, and plasticplasticplastic, were "a global catastrophe" headed for our food chain. But in a paper to be presented today at the Plastics Are Forever summit in Long Beach CA, researchers say they've found new evidence of ingestion of plastic among small fish in the northern Pacific Ocean that eventually find their way to our dinner tables.
About 35 percent of the fish collected on a 2008 research expedition off the West Coast had chemical-laden plastic in their stomachs, according to the study, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The fish ingested two pieces of plastic on average, but scientists who dissected hundreds of plankton-eating lanternfish found as many as 83 plastic fragments in a single fish. The study raises the concern that garbage, as it works its way through the food chain, could be ingested by humans.
It also underscores a problem that has drawn increasing attention in recent years: floating marine debris -- most of it discarded plastic -- that has accumulated in vast, slow-moving ocean currents known as gyres.
Researchers trawled 1,000 miles off the coast in an area known as the Eastern Garbage Patch. The lanternfish they studied are a food source for such popular gamefish as tuna and mahi-mahi.
"As the larger pieces of plastic break down they mimic the size, shape and texture of natural food," said SoCal scientist Charles Moore. "What we're seeing is the entire food web being contaminated by plastic."
The Long Beach summit will delve into solutions to combat the global disposal of plastics. Its web page notes that already 260 species of sea life are known to ingest non-biodegradable plastic, a good portion of it likely from those 50 billion empty plastic water bottles tossed away by U.S. consumers annually.
It's water we drink for our health. But as Curt Ebbesmeyer said in 2008: "We dump this garbage and it ends up in the sea and the sea life we live off. Basically, we're poisoning ourselves."