SFU researcher discusses impact of microplastics on marine life

Rhiannon Moore finds microplastics in beluga whale food chain result from consumer waste

Three knitted article of clothing stacked on top of each other
PHOTO: Dan Gold / Unsplash

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer 

SFU researcher Rhiannon Moore and her team published their research on microplastics in the beluga whale food chain. The study found microplastics not only in beluga whale stomachs, but also in the stomachs of their prey. 

Her research group examined five different arctic fish species beluga whales are known to consume, and found microplastic particles in 21% out of 116 fish stomachs investigated.

“The plastic that we found within the fish that we investigated —  78% of those particles were microfibres, so that’s [ . . . ] from textiles like rugs and furniture but probably most from our clothing because we wash it frequently and it is not able to be filtered out through waste water treatment,” Moore told The Peak. “The main takeaway from this is that plastic has infiltrated many corners of the world including arctic food webs that are in remote areas and not just at the top of the food web, but also at the bottom as well.” 

Moore currently works as a zero waste outreach coordinator for the City of Victoria to relay waste reduction policies to the public. 

She explained the solution to this problem should not fall solely on one person or one company. “The onus should be on both the consumer and corporations,” she said.

Corporations are a major contributor to greenhouse gases and plastic waste. In a research article by Greenpeace, 10 international companies are responsible for a majority of the world’s plastic waste.  

“We live in a very throwaway society and we are always looking for the next best deal, the sale, the newest iPhone, the newest clothing for the next season. All of those things are made of materials that takes a lot of energy to produce and if they are not made with quality, then we end up throwing them away,” said Moore. “We need to really reduce the amount of items that we are manufacturing, purchasing, and disposing of.” She further explained how consumer waste often ends up polluting other parts of the environment. 

However, Moore emphasized the importance of individual choices as consumers and the impacts of their choices on corporate decisions. She believes the initial flood of public interest towards a zero waste lifestyle was the reason many corporations started adopting “sustainable alternatives” or zero waste practices.

“We are the ones that businesses and corporations are catering to,” said Moore. “I think that we have kind of been told this lie, or this story, that our actions don’t matter and I think that that’s really harmful because I think our actions do really matter and every time we purchase something we’re voting with our dollars.”

According to SFU, the research team involved with this study included scientists from Ocean Wise Conservation Association, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 

Moore’s research is available to read in Science of The Total Environment Journal.