Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Fish Fiasco, WINNER 2019 USYD Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize Secondary

Fish Fiasco, WINNER 2019 USYD Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize Secondary

– There’s little beads in there!
– What are they? I hope they’re not ending up
in our oceans. – Let’s investigate.
– BOTH: Yes! Our first step in our investigation
was to meet researcher Vivian Sim. She explained that microplastics are small plastic pieces
less than 5mm long. We learnt that lots of products
contain microplastics, like cosmetics, clothing
and even toothpaste. When we use products
that contain microplastics they go down our sink and end up
at a wastewater treatment plant. They go through lots of processes
to get treated, including primary treatment,
which removes large solids, secondary treatment,
where microbes are added, and tertiary treatment, which filters
and disinfects the water. But these processes don’t remove
all microplastics. We read lots of studies that have found microplastics
in water and sand. And we found it ourselves
at our local beach, through mixing sand
in saline solution, filtering it and zooming in
to see it. We found them! But do fish eat microplastics? We happen to be great at fishing
so we decided to find out. For four months we fished at
Sydney Harbour and the Central Coast. We asked some fishmongers to show us
how to gut a fish properly. Really smelly!
This is just as gross as it looks. We caught dozens of fish and
emptied the guts into filter paper. We used water and tweezers
to go through the guts to find plastic. BOTH: Plastic surgery! We also collected fish guts
from fishermen and we went through them as well. But we couldn’t see any microplastics
inside. So we sought out some professionals
for help. We took our guts to a lab. Using GCMS, the testing showed us that
our fish guts contained phthalates. Phthalates are plasticisers
but they’re not microplastics. But we were really close.
This gave us hope. Maybe the microplastics were just
too small for us to see. We emptied fish guts into
a hypersaline solution, mixed it, let it settle
and filtered it. And guess what? We found microplastics! We went to a scientific briefing and
met more scientists doing research on testing for microplastics. We learnt that even though
they’re very small they can absorb other chemicals
that are really toxic. Microplastics are a big problem. They’re in cosmetics, clothing
and plastic debris that is broken down
into smaller bits. They go down our sinks. They’re not all removed
through wastewater treatments. And they make their way
onto our beaches, into our fish, and we could be eating them. So what can you do? Firstly, check if the products
you are buying contain microplastics. Look for the words ‘copolymer’
and ‘crosspolymer’ on the label. Don’t buy them. Stop using single-use plastics. Stop the plastic in your wardrobe. Use more natural fibres
like cotton or wool. You can share this video to raise awareness.

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