Julieta Martinelli collects oysters at Kopachuck State Park near Gig Harbor, Washington.
Julieta Martinelli/University of Washington
Julieta Martinelli collects oysters at Kopachuck State Park near Gig Harbor, Washington.

Plastic pollution is an increasingly present threat to marine life and one which can potentially impact your dinner table.

Oysters, and other economically valuable shellfish, filter their food from the water where they may also inadvertently capture tiny microplastics. The ingestion and accumulation of these microplastics can have detrimental effects on their health and may be passed to other animals, including humans, through the food chain.

In a recent interdisciplinary study, University of Washington researchers at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Department of Chemistry and Department of Materials Science and Engineering used advanced methodologies to accurately identify and catalog microplastics in Pacific oysters from the Salish Sea. They have discovered that the abundance of tiny microplastic contaminants in these oysters is much lower than previously thought. The findings were published in January in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Observation of filters is the method researchers have typically used, so if we had stopped there, we would have thought all the oysters had microplastics because small particles were present in most of the filters,” said lead author Julieta Martinelli, a UW postdoctoral researcher at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Martinelli’s initial observations under a dissecting microscope revealed what were thought to be high numbers of microplastics left behind in the testing filters, but when Phan further analyzed those filters with three advanced chemical identification techniques, they realized that most of what was left in the filters was not actually plastic.

Other co-authors include Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, a UW assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences, and Christine Luscombe, a UW professor of materials science and engineering.

Read more at UW News »