Team of scientists uncover river of plastic flowing beneath The Thames

03 Jan 2014


A team of scientists has uncovered tonnes of waste plastic flowing through London after collecting thousands of pieces of plastic submerged along the river bed of the upper Thames Estuary.

According to commentators, the humongous amounts of plastic recovered pointed to an unseen stream of trash flowing through the city, which could be a serious threat to aquatic wildlife.

The findings which have been published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, underline the cause for concern, not only for ecosystems around the river but for the North Sea, into which the river flowed.

Using nets meant for trapping Chinese mitten crabs, researchers from the Royal Holloway, University of London, and the Natural History Museum conducted a three-month trial, documenting the collected trash.

They recovered over 8,000 pieces of plastic, including large numbers of cigarette packaging, food wrappers and cups, however, over a fifth of waste was comprised sanitary products.

According to Dr Dave Morritt, a senior lecturer in marine biology at Royal Holloway and co-author of the study, the unusual aspect of the study was that the nets were originally designed to trap fish and crabs moving along the river bed, so they could see that the majority of the litter was hidden below the surface, reported.

According to the National History Museum, the Thames tide broke up the plastic into smaller pieces which could be eaten by birds, fish and smaller animals. The chemicals from the plastic were then transferred through the food chain into the ecosystem, where they became a threat to other wildlife.

Morritt said the underwater litter needed to be taken into account when predicting the amount of pollution entering the UK's rivers and seas, not just those items that could be seen at the surface and washed up on shore.

He added, the potential impacts this could have for wildlife were far reaching: not only were the species that lived in and around the river affected, but also those in seas that rivers fed into.

According to another co-author of the study, Dr Paul Clark, from the National History Museum, all the waste, which was mostly plastic, was hidden underwater so Londoners probably did not realise that it was there, reported. He added, plastic could have a damaging impact on underwater life.

Scientists, meanwhile are pushing hard for changes in policies and consumer habits. The Natuaral History Museum is holding a Plastic Awareness weekend on 4 -5 January.

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