New Species of Amphipod Named for Plastic Found in its Gut

plastic amphipod title

Newly discovered species of amphipod, Eurythenes plasticus, named for the plastic found in its gut (Photo: Weston et al/WWF; Newcastle University)

A new species of deep-water crustacean has been named for the plastic that the animal was found to have ingested, according to a new report published in the online journal Zootaxa.

Eurythenes plasticus is an amphipod discovered by a team of scientists from Newcastle University in the UK, specimens of which were collected during a November 2014 expedition to the Sirena Deep, the third-deepest known part of the Mariana trench.

Eurythenes, of which eight species have previously been described, are bottom-dwelling deep-sea scavengers which grow can grow to approximately 15cm in length, and are common to waters around the globe. The new species, the largest sampled specimen of which measured 4.81cm in length, was found at depths between 6010 and 6949m of the Mariana Trench, a region known as the upper hadal zone of the 11,000m-deep abyss. 

The new species was confirmed by the scientists as genetically and morphologically distinct from other members of the Eurythene genus but, sadly, as noted by the report's abstract: 'While this species is new to science and lives in the remote hadal zone, it is not exempt from the impacts of anthropogenic pollution. Indeed, one individual was found to have a microplastic fibre, 83.74% similar to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), in its hindgut.'

plastic amphipod microfibre

Photograph of the PET microfibre found in the specimen's gut (Photo: Weston et al/WWF; Newcastle University)

'The ever-growing body of science is pointing to a similar trend: microplastics in our water, in the air, on top of mountains, in fish, in whales, and the list goes on and on and on,' said the study's lead author Johanna Weston, of the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University. 'The body of literature on the extent of plastic pollution can be summarized with "we looked, and we found it".'

PET is the fourth largest mass-produced polymer in the world, much of it used in the creation of plastic bottles, packaging and as fibres for clothing, under its more commonly used name of polyester. Its presence in the guts of organisms throughout the world's ocean is well established, but to find it in one of the most remote and inaccessible marine environments is testament to the scale of the problem presented by plastic pollution, hence the decision by the scientists to name the newly-discovered creature accordingly.

'In partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), we chose to name this species "plasticus" to illustrate the ubiquity of plastic pollution in the ocean,' said Weston. 'Even animals living in these extreme and seemingly remote environments don't appear to be exempt from the impacts of plastic pollution. This species was new to us but not new to our impacts. I hope that this species helps people connect their actions on land to impacts in the ocean.'

 


The complete report entitled New species of Eurythenes from hadal depths of the Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean (Crustacea: Amphipoda), by Johanna N. J. Weston, Priscilla Carrillo-Barragan, Thomas D. Linley, William D. K. Reid and Alan J. Jamieson is published under an open access license at www.biotaxa.org/Zootaxa/article/view/zootaxa.4748.1.9

 

 

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