High concentration of microplastics has irremediable negative impacts on marine invertebrates such as slipper limpets, according to a study by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology released Monday.
Microplastics are tiny plastic beads less than 5 mm in diameter, which can be found in many health, beauty and household products.
A research team led by Karen Chan, assistant professor of the university's division of life science, studied the impacts of microplastics on slipper limpets, an invasive species, and bristle worms, a common fish bait.
The findings show that when slipper limpets were exposed to high concentration of microplastics during their larval stage, the growth of this pollution-tolerant species significantly slowed down, and they would not resume their original growth rates even after the removal of microbeads from their surroundings.
As for bristle worms, the team found that the regeneration rate of the species' tail is much reduced under exposure to a high concentration of microbeads, and such regenerative ability is crucial for their survival. Smaller beads were also found to be more detrimental than larger ones.
In Hong Kong, up to 9.4 billion microbeads are being released to coastal waters every day. Worldwide, an estimated 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles had accumulated in the ocean as of 2016, according to the university.
"To help save our ocean, we should start with ourselves today. Avoid products with microplastics, think twice before consuming single-use plastics such as straws, bottled drinks as they do degrade into small pieces," Chan said.
The team's findings were recently published in the scientific journals Environmental Pollution and Marine Pollution Bulletin.