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Micro-plastic ingestion by waterbirds from contaminated wetlands in South Africa

Reynolds, Chevonne, Ryan, Peter G.
Marine pollution bulletin 2018 v.126 pp. 330-333
biodiversity, ducks, feces, foraging, freshwater, freshwater ecosystems, ingestion, marine ecosystems, plastics, pollutants, sewage treatment, water birds, water pollution, wetlands, South Africa
Despite a large literature on the impacts of micro-plastic pollution in marine ecosystems, very little research has focused on these pollutants in freshwater ecosystems. Recently, however, a few studies have demonstrated that micro-plastic pollutants are ingested by freshwater taxa, including birds. To explore this potential environmental threat in African freshwater systems we quantified micro-plastic pollutants in the faeces and feather brushings of seven southern African duck species. We analysed 283 faecal samples and 408 feather brushings, and found that 5% of faecal samples and 10% of feather samples contained micro-plastic fibres. The presence and abundance of micro-fibres differed between sampling sites, with significantly higher amounts recorded for the site that received effluent from a sewage treatment facility. Additionally, micro-fibre presence differed across duck species, indicating that foraging behaviour affects plastic ingestion. Our study confirms that African freshwater ecosystems and the biodiversity they support are under threat from micro-plastic contamination.