How plastic debris and associated chemicals impact the marine food web: A review

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Contamination from plastic debris is omnipresent in marine environments, posing a substantial risk to marine organisms, food webs and the ecosystem. The overlap between the size range of marine plastic pollution with prey means that plastics are readily available for consumption by organisms at all trophic levels. Large plastic debris can directly result in the death of larger marine organisms, through entanglement, strangulation, choking and starvation through a false sense of satiation. Whereas smaller plastic debris, such as micro- and nano-plastics can have adverse impact to marine organisms due to their large surface area to volume ratio and their ability to translocate within an organism. Various physiological processes are reported to be impacted by these small contaminants, such as feeding behaviour, reproductive outputs, developmental anomalies, changes in gene expression, tissue inflammation and the inhibition of growth and development to both adults and their offspring. Micro- and nano-plastics are still relatively poorly understood and are considered a hidden threat. Plastic is a complex contaminant due to the diversity in sizes, shapes, polymer compositions, and chemical additives. These factors can each have unique and species-specific impacts. Consumption of plastics can occur directly, through ingestion and indirectly, through trophic transfer, entanglement of prey, adherence of plastics to external surfaces, and adherence of organisms to the external surfaces of plastics. This review investigated the intrusion of plastics into the marine food web and the subsequent consequences of plastic pollution to marine biota. The objective of this review was to identify the complexity of impacts to marine organisms through the food web from plastic contamination. Through a concise analysis of the available literature the review has shown that plastic pollution and their associated additives can adversely impact environmental and biological health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number121156
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2023


  • Microplastic pollution
  • Environmental health
  • Plastic waste
  • Plastic consumption
  • Epiplastic communities


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