Shrimp-like creatures are turned off sexually by plastic chemicals, study finds

Plastic Pollution In Sri Lanka Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Plastic Pollution In Sri Lanka Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Scientists have long been concerned by the link between plastic pollution and lower sperm counts in humans. Similarly, experts agree that the amount of plastic being dumped in the ocean is threatening both innocent marine life and the health of planet Earth as a whole.

Now a recent study in the journal Environmental Pollution indirectly reinforces both of those concerns with its discovery about shrimp-like creatures known as Echinogammarus marinus. Scientists from the United Kingdom and Brazil examined these animals' reproductive behavior after being exposed to four chemicals commonly found in plastics: NBBS (N-butyl benzenesulfonamide), TPHP (triphenyl phosphate), DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate.) All of these chemicals are found in common household products like food packaging, electronics equipment, medical supplies and cosmetics.

Even low levels of NBBS, TPHP, and DEHP caused pairs of E. marinus to experience lower sperm count and worsened mating practices. Specifically, these marine amphipods usually reproduce by forming pairs and locking together for two days, yet those exposed to the plastic chemicals were less likely to form pairs — and, if they did so, took longer to make contact and re-pair.

“This unsuccessful mating behaviour has serious repercussions, not only for the species being tested but potentially for the population as a whole," explained study co-author Professor Alex Ford from the University of Portsmouth in a statement. He added that these animals "are commonly found on European shores, where they make up a substantial amount of the diet of fish and birds. If they are compromised it will have an effect on the whole food chain."