New research shows, plastics in the ocean can release chemicals that cause deformities in sea urchin larvae.

British scientists identify that chemicals leaking from marine plastic can lead to deformities in ocean-dwelling species including sea urchin.

The study by biologists from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus found that plastics in the ocean can release chemicals that cause deformities in sea urchin larvae.

The Study of Sea Urchins

The team soaked various plastic samples in seawater for 72 hours, then removed the plastic and raised sea urchin embryos in the water. They found that urchins developed a variety of abnormalities, including deformed skeletons and nervous systems.

Dr Eva Jimenez-Guri said, “Many plastics are treated with chemicals for a variety of purposes, such as making them mouldable or flame retardant.

“If such plastics find their way to the oceans, these chemicals can leak out into the water.

“Plastics can also pick up and transport chemicals and other environmental contaminants, potentially spreading them through the oceans.”

The study also nurtured urchin embryos in water that had contained “virgin” polyethylene particles. These were untreated, with no additive chemicals and no previously collected environmental pollutants.

These sea urchins developed normally. This suggested that the abnormalities observed in other samples were caused by chemicals embedded in the plastics leaking out into the water, rather than the plastics themselves.

The study used pre-production “nurdles”  (pellets from which most plastics are made) from a UK supplier, and “floating filters” (used in water treatment) found on beaches in Cornwall.

Analysis and Outcomes

Analysis of the water showed all samples contained chemicals known to be detrimental to the development of animals. Chemicals identified included polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Water from the different kinds of plastic affected urchin development in slightly different ways. Although all samples led to a deformity of skeletons and nervous systems. They also seemed to cause problems with gastrulation (when embryos begin to take shape).

The original published paper can be found here: “Developmental toxicity of plastic leachates on the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus.”.