A Palate for Plastic

For the first time, filmmakers capture plankton feasting on polystyrene.

July 07, 2015

Scientists have known that zooplankton, the sea’s tiniest feeders, often accidentally ingest ocean plastic, allowing the trash to work its way up the food chain. But for the first time, filmmakers caught the act on (a sort-of) candid camera. Working under a microscope at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the United Kingdom, a team from Five Films surrounded zooplankton with fluorescent polystyrene beads and watched what happened next.

The above video (excerpted by New Scientist from a short film) takes place in a single drop of water over a span of three hours. Yes, it looks pretty cool, but remember: That’s a living creature eating the enduring remnants of our bad habits—habits that dump up to 14 million tons of plastic into the oceans every year. And that’s hard to digest.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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