b'18 Carnegie Science|Summer 2019First Microfiber Studyon Sea Anemones . . . plastic pollution and climate change are packing a one-twoAnemones are closely related to corals and can help scientists understand how coral reef ecosystems are affected by plastic contamination in the oceans. This punch for coral reefs. anemone is located within a coral reef in the U.S. Virgin Islands. T iny fragments of plasticgrowing problem for our oceans and theImage courtesy NOAA in the ocean areanimals that live in them, Roman de consumed by seaOrte said. We wanted to understand how anemones with theirthese long-lived contaminants are food, and bleachedaffecting fragile coral reef ecosystems. anemones retain thesePlastics could be confused by the microfibers longer thanorganisms for food and could also be healthy ones, accordingcarriers of other harmful contaminants. to new research from Carnegies ManoelaSince sea anemones are closely related to Roman de Orte, Sophie Clowez, and Kencorals, we decided to study sea anemonesMost laboratory research on plastic pollution uses tiny beads of plastic, not microfibers shown here. These Caldeira.in the laboratory to better understandfluorescent plastic microfibers have been ingested byTheir work, published byeffects of plastics on corals in the wild.a bleached sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida. , is the first-everImage courtesy Manoela Roman de OrteEnvironmental Pollution So Roman de Orte, Clowez, and investigation of the interactions betweenCaldeira set out to determine whether plastic microfibers and sea anemones.microfibers are ingested by healthy seamixed with brine shrimp, about 80% of the Most laboratory research on plasticanemones and by those that have lost theunbleached anemones ingested all three pollution uses tiny beads of plastic, notsymbiotic algae that provide them withmicrofibers. For the bleached anemones, microfibers. Since anemones are closelynutrients, a condition called bleaching. On60% consumed nylon and 20% consumed related to corals, they can help scientistscorals reefs, bleaching is caused bypolyester with no food present; 80% took understand how coral reef ecosystems areincreasing ocean temperatures fromup all three microfibers when mixed with affected by millions of tons of plasticglobal climate change.brine shrimp. contaminating the worlds oceans.The research team introduced threeIt took longer for the bleached One of the most common types ofdifferent kinds of microfibersnylon,anemones to expel the microfibers after plastics in the ocean is microfibers frompolyester, and polypropyleneto bothingesting them than it did for the healthy washing synthetic clothing and from theunbleached and bleached sea anemonesanemones, although all microfibers were breakdown of equipment such as ropesalone and mixed with brine shrimp.gone by the third day. However, in a and nets. Microfibers are found across allThey found that when introducednatural marine environment, anemones the worlds oceans and are beginning toalone, nylon was consumed by about aand coral would continually be appear in fish and shellfish consumed byquarter of the unbleached anemones andreintroduced to new microfibers, making humans.the other two microfibers were not takenthe contamination a chronic condition. Plastic pollution is a serious andup at all. But when the microfibers wereOur work suggests that plastic pollution and climate change are packing a one-two punch for coral reefs, Caldeira explained. When the reefs are bleached by hot ocean temperatures, the organisms are more likely to eat and retain plastic microfibers. It looks like the effects of global warming and of ocean pollution dont just add together, they multiply. SUPPORT:The Carnegie Institution for Science and the So Paulo Research Foundation supported this work. Carnegie postdoctoral associates Manoela Roman de Orte, left, and Sophie Clowez, middle, conducted the study with staff scientist Ken Caldeira, right.Images courtesy Carnegie Institution for Science'