Betsy Stoner, assistant professor of natural and applied sciences, details how micro plastics are affecting our seas.
Elizabeth Stoner is an Assistant Professor in the Natural and Applied Sciences Department at Bentley University. Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in biological sciences from Florida International University in 2014, and her B.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in biology from Skidmore College in 2008. Dr. Stoner is a marine ecologist, with a research program focused on understanding the role that benthic organisms play in coastal marine ecosystems, and how human activities influence these interactions. Her lab has been studying microplastics from nearshore marine biota for the last three years.
Microplastics, or tiny fragments of plastic, are now everywhere–from the water we drink, to the very air we breathe. A growing body of literature has described how microplastics may enter coastal marine and estuarine ecosystems, especially due to their close proximity to human activities. However, more research is necessary to describe the fate of microplastic in marine animals that live in these systems, and the implications this has for marine community and ecosystem dynamics.
Jellyfish are often considered nuisance animals by humans, but in reality, they provide numerous ecosystem services, such as acting as prey to commercially valuable fisheries. Microplastic contamination of jellyfish could have implications for the health of jellyfish and the role they play in coastal ecosystems, but scant information exists on microplastics found in jellyfish. Our research provides the most comprehensive dataset to-date on microplastics from coastal jellyfish. Most notably, we documented a high presence of microplastics from jellyfish, in particular microfibers coming from clothing, though microplastic densities differ based on the location that the jellyfish were collected from.
The jellyfish we studied are bottom-dwellers and rarely move, as such, these jellyfish may accumulate microplastics and may help indicate microplastic “hot spots”–or places where plastics are most abundant in the ocean. This is important because it may allow resource managers to more effectively manage, and prevent, plastic pollution in marine ecosystems.