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Biological impact of microplastics on marine animals

Biological impact of microplastics on marine animals

There are now 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the worlds oceans, with an estimated 10% of the plastics we produce ending up in the oceans. At the University of Exeter we have been doing research into the impacts of the smaller pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size, called microplastics, on the health of marine animals. Our research has shown that tiny marine animals called zooplankton, which are very important food sources for many larger animals like fish and whales, can eat these microplastics. Zooplankton eating microplastics then eat less of their normal food which means they get less energy from their diet, which means they have less energy for growth and reproduction.

Scientists Dr Ceri Lewis, Professor Tamara Galloway and Dr Matthew Cole have been working with Encounter Edu and Snowline Productions to produce a full set of GCSE science educational resources on the issue of marine microplastics. These resources are directly based on the NERC-funded science that they are doing looking at the biological impact of microplastics on marine animals, focussing particularly on zooplankton. These resources are funded by NERC and free for anyone in the world to download and use. We want to raise awareness of the issue of microplastics amongst school children as it is one of the major threats to the health of our oceans and is something we can all do something about.

Plastics, plankton and poo

Find out how we are investigating the impacts of marine microplastics.

Science under sail

Join the research team on the hunt for microplastics and gain an insight into field sampling techniques.

Science in the lab

Find out how laboratory work can complement field sampling as we ask the question do zooplankton eat microplstics?

Science and Society

Listen to scientists from the University and Plymouth Marine Laboratory explain the societal importance of their work and how their research can be used by policy-makers, community organisations and wider society.

Encounter Edu

Download and view the resources for 14-16 year olds from the Encounter Edu website.


This research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)