Lego abandons effort to make bricks from recycled plastic bottles

Lego has stopped a project to make bricks from recycled drinks bottles instead of oil-based plastic, saying it would have led to higher carbon emissions over the product’s lifetime. The move, first reported by the Financial Times, followed efforts by the world’s largest toymaker to research more sustainable materials, as part of a wave of …

Plastics spill from Queensland’s Bribie Island could harm wildlife for years, expert warns

A south-east Queensland plastics spill in which 40,000 small discs were flushed into the ocean could threaten birds and marine life for years to come, an expert says, amid criticism of CSIRO’s handling of the breach. A CSIRO spokesperson confirmed on Thursday that 40 litres of plastics known as biomedia were accidentally discharged from the …

‘The air tastes like burnt plastic’: Skopje’s chronic pollution problem

The hills that circle Skopje keep citizens safe when smog grows thick, but they also trap the toxins that make its air among the most menacing of any city in Europe. The mountains are the only escape, says Katarina, a 33-year-old accountant, as she walks home from an evening hike. “I was wearing a mask …

90% of Great Lakes water samples have unsafe microplastic levels – report

About 90% of water samples taken over the last 10 years from the Great Lakes contain microplastic levels that are unsafe for wildlife, a new peer-reviewed paper from the University of Toronto finds. About 20% of those samples are at the highest level of risk, but the study’s authors say the damage can be reversed …

Dead flies could be used to make biodegradable plastic, scientists say

Dead flies could be turned into biodegradable plastic, researchers have said. The finding, presented at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), could be useful as it is difficult to find sources for biodegradable polymers that do not have other competing uses. “For 20 years, my group has been developing methods to transform …

US scientists turn old plastic into soap after fireside inspiration

Scientists have discovered a method to give new life to old plastic – by converting it into soap. Plastics are chemically similar to fatty acids, which are one of the main ingredients in soap. For Guoliang Liu, an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech and author of the paper published in the journal Science, …

The Impact of Charging for Plastic Bags: Lessons for the Environment and Human Health

Key Points:– The use of single-use plastic bags in England has dropped by 98% since retailers began charging for them in 2015.– Seven leading grocery chains have seen a significant decline in the distribution of plastic carrier bags, from 7.6 billion in 2014 to 133 million last year.– Environmental campaigners are urging the government to …

‘Real action gets results’: government urged to repeat success of plastic bag charge

Environmental campaigners have called on the government to learn from its own successes after official figures showed the use of supermarket plastic bags had fallen 98% since retailers in England began charging for them in 2015. Since the charge was introduced, annual distribution of plastic carrier bags by seven leading grocery chains plummeted from 7.6bn …

Australia’s annual plastic consumption produces emissions equivalent to 5.7m cars, analysis shows

The plastics consumed yearly by Australians have a greenhouse emissions impact equivalent to 5.7m cars – more than a third of the cars on Australia’s roads, new analysis suggests. A report commissioned by the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF Australia has found that the plastics consumed nationally in the 2019-20 financial year created 16m …

Tangled in marine debris, skate egg cases dry up and die on Peruvian beaches

A new study has found that shorttail fanskate populations may be being affected by plastic pollution.The skates mistake abandoned fishing nets and other debris for seaweed and attach their eggs to them, unaware that the debris could wash up on the shore where the eggs will dry out.Shorttail fanskates (Sympterygia brevicaudata) are considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In recent decades, plastic pollution has become a key environmental issue. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year, equivalent to a truckload of garbage dumped into the sea every minute — and it’s only projected to get worse. Scientists have reported that numerous marine species mistake plastic for food and ingest it, or become trapped in garbage, both of which can seriously threaten their survival. In addition, invertebrates and other marine organisms can become attached to floating plastic that travels long distances around the world, and scientists have warned that they risk becoming invasive alien species in their final destinations.
An iguana eating a plastic bag. Image courtesy of Galapagos Science Center.
A new study has revealed another problem with marine garbage, one that could be endangering Peru’s populations of shorttail fanskates (Sympterygia brevicaudata), a species of skate that is already considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The study’s authors report that it is common to see dead, dried-up skate egg cases attached to marine garbage washed up on beaches. The study was published in June in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
But how do the eggs get caught in marine debris, and why do they die?
Hundreds of dead egg cases entangled in marine debris
In the city of Trujillo in northern Peru, members of the NGO ConservAccion conduct a survey of animals that, for various reasons, wash up on the area’s beaches. They’ve noticed that it it’s common to see skate egg cases attached to marine debris and that, most of the time the eggs have dried out, dooming the baby skates inside. Wanting to find out how widespread the problem is, the experts set themselves the task of counting all the eggs, identifying the type of garbage and plastic, and determining the places where this is most common.
“They are like little bags,” is how veterinarian Carlos Calvo-Mac, ConservAccion’s project director, described shorttail fanskate egg cases. “They are usually called mermaid’s purses, because they have that shape and even a leather-like texture,” he said.
Shorttail fanskate egg cases, photographed near Puerto Morín, Peru. Image by rob-westerduijn via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0).
“Skates do not give parental care; they simply lay their eggs,” said Miguel Valderrama Herrera, a fisheries biologist with ConservAccion and the study’s lead author. They make sure the eggs are fixed to something to prevent them from floating away. To enable this, the eggs have a tendril, “like a little rope that lets them attach, for example to algae,” he said.
In tropical seas, skates often attach the egg cases to coral, but they can use any structure, Valderrama said. This is how shorttail fanskates sometimes unwittingly choose marine debris, such as nets or other types of plastic, to deposit their egg cases. “What they don’t know is that these things, due to the action of the tide, can end up beached,” the biologist said. When it remains out of the water, the egg case dries out before it can hatch, and it dies.
During the shorttail fanskate’s spawning season between February and April, a group of eight people, made up of experts and volunteers, visited three beaches in the region of La Libertad, on the northern coast of Peru. They were looking for clusters of marine debris that had been in the sea for a certain period of time, to determine whether they contained egg cases.
Dried shorttail fanskate egg cases, which turn black when they dry, caught in marine debris. Image courtesy of ConservAccion.
In total, the researchers recorded 75 clusters containing 1,595 egg cases. Of these, 15.9% had presumably hatched. And of the total, 15.8% were still fresh, but the rest, 84.2%, had dried out.
The waste itself was mainly composed of plastic associated with fishing materials, primarily nets used by artisanal fishers. “These nets, made up of … a series of holes, are a tempting place for the skates to attach their eggs. The way they move in the water, being so light, can also imitate the movement of algae,” Valderrama said. Less frequently, the egg cases were also attached to fabric, rubber, foam plastic, metal, wood, paper or cardboard.
Most of the debris clusters and egg cases were found in the vicinity of the town of Puerto Morín, followed by the town of Salaverry and city of Huanchaco, according to the study. Valderrama said there were two reasons why most of the dried eggs were found in clumps of waste around Puerto Morín. “Puerto Morín survives almost exclusively from fishing and, being a bay, the clusters easily get trapped,” he said. The large number of egg cases found there have also led researchers to believe it may be a spawning ground for shorttail fanskates.
How much does the loss of all these eggs affect the shorttail fanskate’s survival?
Researchers analyze waste clusters while looking for shorttail fanskate egg cases. Image courtesy of ConservAccion.
A vulnerable species
Shorttail fanskates are typical of the shallow waters of the southeastern Pacific along the coasts of Ecuador, Peru and central Chile. They inhabit depths of 8-100 meters (26-328 feet), although they have also been accidentally caught by crustacean fisheries operating at depths down to 500 meters (1,640 feet), according to the study.
Even though fishers do not intentionally target fanskates, they are categorized as near threatened by the IUCN. Like sharks and chimaeras, skates are among the most threatened marine animals. In 2021, scientists classified one-third of the world’s species of sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras — 391 out of 1,199 species evaluated— as being critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable according to the IUCN. Species in these three IUCN categories are considered to be threatened with extinction.
In addition to being accidentally captured by nets and hooks set for other species, these animals “reproduce very little, so when they are affected by fishing or pollution, it can be very harmful,” Valderrama said.
A shorttail fanskate (Sympterygia brevicaudata). Image by ulrichzanabria via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0).
“Although there are numerous initiatives aimed at cleaning up solid waste on Peru’s beaches, I have yet to see any study on the impact of these campaigns. Do they really help?” said Calvo-Mac. According to the study’s authors, there’s a possibility WWF-Peru might install a fishing net recycling point in Puerto Morín.
WWF-Peru and Bureo, a fishing-gear recycling company, have already set up collection points in other areas along the Peruvian coast where fishermen can leave nets they no longer use and can learn about the impact of abandoning nets at sea. One of these points is on Los Organos beach, also located in the north of the country. “We saw truly great results just by offering this information and somewhere to deposit old nets,” said Aimée Leslie, WWF-Peru’s conservation director.
Banner Image: A washed-up egg case of a shorttail fanskate. Image by ulises_inf via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0).
This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and published here on our Latam site on May 24, 2023.
Seeking a sanctuary for Peru’s sea life: Q&A with Yuri Hooker

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Animals, Biodiversity, Coastal Ecosystems, Conservation, Fish, Marine Animals, Marine Biodiversity, Marine Conservation, Marine Protected Areas, Oceans, Plastic, Pollution, Protected Areas, Rays, Sharks And Rays, Wildlife