Microplastics or particles of plastic smaller than five millimetres have plagued salt and freshwater environments with their sheer abundance.

In a research paper published in the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography's journal Limnology & Oceanography Letters, researchers demonstrated how microplastics transfer through the food chain between microscopic prey and larval fish that inhabit the coastal ecosystem.

The study also revealed that microplastic ingestion impedes the normal growth of fish larvae.

Image credit: Oceana

Microplastics can cause a lot of harm to marine life if eaten. Image credit: Oceana

The investigators, in addition, looked at the effects of a common pollutant (the pesticide DDT) that attaches to microparticles in coastal waters. Organisms were not able to detect or discriminate against ingesting microparticles with high levels of DDT.

"Our findings indicate that trophic transfer may be an important route for microplastic exposure in estuarine food webs and that even short exposure to high levels of microplastics can impair growth of an important prey fish," said lead author Samantha Athey, of the University of Toronto.

"Because estuaries are incredibly productive habitats that are home to many of our commercial seafood species in the United States, it is important to understand the sources, fate, and effects of microplastics and associated pollutants in these systems."