First detection of seven phthalate esters (PAEs) as plastic tracers in superficial neustonic/planktonic samples and cetacean blubber†
Ingestion of plastics and microplastics by marine organisms may have physical and toxicological noxious effects creating a serious threat to marine species. There is a need to develop methods to evaluate the plastic exposure in free-ranging marine wildlife particularly related to microplastic ingestion. To this aim, seven phthalate esters (PAEs) were analysed, as plastic tracers, in neustonic/planktonic samples and skin biopsy samples of four cetacean species from the North-Western Mediterranean Sea. Among all phthalates, the highest frequency of detection was obtained from DEHP (78.9%), followed in descending order by MBzP (57.9%), MEHP and BBzP (both 52.6%), DIOIP (47.4%) and MBP and DNHP (both 42.1%). All 19 superficial tows analysed presented microplastic debris, confirming the widespread distribution of microplastics on the seawater surface in the Mediterranean Sea. The abundance of the smallest items (<0.5 mm) found in the samples was significantly correlated with MEHP, MBzP and BBzP, while the abundance of 0.5–1 mm and 2.5–5 mm items were related to BBzP and MBP, respectively. Regarding the PAEs, detected in the neustonic/planktonic samples correlated with microplastics (MEHP, MBzP, BBzP and MBP), appreciable levels of these compounds were found in all the four cetacean species. The present results represent a step forward in the application of a new non-invasive analytical method to evaluate PAEs as tracers of plastic exposure/ingestion in marine wildlife.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Microplastics in the environment