It’s a basic concept: the quality of the environment that marine life lives in affects their health (which in turn can affect the health of those who eat that marine life, whether that's more wildlife or us). A recent study published in Nature, Science Reports shows the harm caused to (and by) fish when they consume the plastic that litters the ocean, a problem we know is much too large.

According to the author of this study, Chelsea Rochman, “The ocean is basically a toilet bowl for all of our chemical pollutants and waste in general. Eventually, we start to see those contaminants high up in the food chain, in seafood and wildlife.”

In other words, this isn’t just about protecting our ocean’s health – as if that wasn’t enough – but our wildlife in general.

This study fed three groups of medaka, or Japanese rice fish, three different diets. One group got a clean, pollution-free diet. The second group got a diet that consisted of 10 percent plastic, and a third group got plastic that had been soaking in San Diego Bay for several months.

Any guess as to what group did the worst? I don’t think it’s a surprise that members of the last group were more likely to have tumors and liver problems, even in comparison to group two, which had the regular plastic.

Rochman explained that the plastics that are in the ocean end up being a sponge for the other chemicals already there, making the plastic even more dangerous to fish because the juices in their stomachs start interacting with the plastic and allowing chemicals into their bloodstream.

And according to the study’s author, this is a problem for humans as well because when we consume these contaminated fish, we could be consuming these toxins as well.

While most experts agree that the benefits of eating seafood still outweigh the risks, this is one more sign that we should take the problem of trash in our oceans more seriously and work for positive change. One way you can help? Recycle your plastic as research shows that most of what is in our oceans is recyclable.

You can read more about this research here.

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