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The one-two punch of plastic exposure: macro- and micro-plastics induce multi-organ damage in seabirds


Rivers-Auty, J and Bond, AL and Grant, ML and Lavers, JL, The one-two punch of plastic exposure: macro- and micro-plastics induce multi-organ damage in seabirds, Journal of Hazardous Materials, 442 Article 130117. ISSN 0304-3894 (2023) [Refereed Article]

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© 2022. The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed.

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2022.130117


Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is ubiquitous and increasing. The environment is inundated with microplastics (< 1 mm), and the health effects of these less conspicuous pollutants is poorly known. In addition, there is now evidence that macroplastics can release microplastics in the form of shedding or digestive fragmentation, meaning there is potential for macroplastic exposure to induce direct and indirect pathology through microplastics. Therefore, there is an urgent need for data from wild populations on the relationship between macro- and microplastic exposure and the potential compounding pathological effects of these forms of plastics. We investigated the presence and impact of microplastics in multiple tissues from Flesh-footed Shearwaters Ardenna carneipes, a species that ingests considerable quantities of plastics, and used histopathological techniques to measure physiological responses and inflammation from the plastics. All organs examined (kidney, spleen, proventriculus) had embedded microplastic particles and this correlated with macroplastic exposure. Considerable tissue damage was recorded, including a significant reduction in tubular glands and rugae in the proventriculus, and evidence of inflammation, fibrosis, and loss of organ structures in the kidney and spleen. This indicates macroplastics can induce damage directly at the site of exposure, while microplastics can be mobilised throughout the body causing widespread pathology. Collectively, these results indicate the scope and severity of the health impacts of plastic pollution may be grossly underestimated.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:marine debris, plastic pollution, seabird ecology, nanoplastic, microplastic, pathology, fibrosis, histopathology
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Pollution and contamination
Research Field:Pollution and contamination not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Marine biodiversity
UTAS Author:Rivers-Auty, J (Dr Jack Auty)
UTAS Author:Grant, ML (Miss Megan Grant)
UTAS Author:Lavers, JL (Dr Jennifer Lavers)
ID Code:153820
Year Published:2023
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2022-10-08
Last Modified:2022-11-28
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