Found the first evidences of microplastics in sea urchins of the Canary Islands

An article recently published in the magazine Marine Pollution Bulletin reflects the results of the first study carried out in the world on the presence of microplastics in sea urchin Diadema africanum, species widely present in the Macaronesian region, with large populations in the Canary Islands. This study, which is also the first in which microplastics have been found in hedgehogs in the Canary Islands, is part of the Master’s Thesis by marine biologist Marta Sevillano González, from the University of La Coruña, who carried out said work within the research group in Applied Analytical Chemistry (AChem) of the University of La Laguna, coordinated by the professor of Analytical Chemistry, Javier Hernández Borges.

Sampling the specimens of D. africanum It was carried out in two different locations on the coast of Tenerife (El Porís and Tajao, belonging to the municipality of Arico) by autonomous diving at a depth of between 7 and 11 meters. Immediately afterwards, the specimens were transferred to the laboratory where they were frozen at -20 ºC and, later, dissected. Once the gonads and the digestive tract were extracted, they underwent a digestion treatment to remove all organic matter and allow the samples to be viewed under the stereomicroscope. The microplastics found were classified according to their size, color and shape to later identify their composition.

In the 33 copies of D. africanum studied, a total of 320 particles were found, most of which were microfibers (97.5%), although some fragments (1.9%) and films (0.6%) were also found, mainly blue (43.3 and 47.0% in Tajao and El Porís, respectively) and translucent white (32.5 and 39.5%, respectively). In general, the mean concentration was 9.7 ± 3.9 particles / individual, a slightly higher percentage being found in the digestive tract compared to the gonads, although no significant differences were found between the two.

LThe “molecular fingerprints” of each microplastic

To identify the composition of the particles found, the team had the collaboration of Airán Ródenas Seguí, researcher of the Ramón y Cajal program of the Department of Physics and the University Institute for Advanced Studies in Atomic, Molecular and Photonic Physics (IUDEA) of the University of La Laguna, who carried out a detailed analysis by micro-Raman spectroscopy.

The study involved several months of initial work to fine-tune the technique, within which the Final Degree Project (TFG) of the Physics Degree student Sergio Catalán Torralbo was developed. From the measurements made, it was found that 45.9% of the microplastics found were mainly cellulosic microfibers, that is, natural or semi-synthetic polymers that cannot be considered plastics, 24.3% were polypropylene (PP ), one of the most produced plastics in the world, and another 24.3% polyethylene terephthalate (PET), widely used in food and beverage packaging, as well as to make certain types of clothing.

Regarding the possible sources of microfibers, based on their shape, color and composition, it can be deduced that they have an anthropogenic origin, with the discharge of wastewater as the first cause. It is known that wastewater treatment plants are capable of removing a significant percentage of microplastics from polluted waters, but not 100%, so it is possible to find a variety of plastics in them, including a high percentage of microfibers and fragments. Both sampling points are quite close to various discharge points, so their proximity, together with the action of currents, could contribute to the dispersion of microplastics through the nearby marine environment and, consequently, could be ingested by local fauna.

On the other hand, the presence of microplastics in urchin gonads is very relevant, since the main components of the gonads are phospholipids and proteins with strong adhesion to microplastics, which could have harmful effects on sea urchin embryos. , being able to affect the populations of these, as certain studies indicate.

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