Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
May 2020

Plastic Pellets Trigger Feeding Responses in Sea Anemones

Plastic Pellets Trigger Feeding Responses in Sea Anemones

Multiple mechanisms for plastic consumption by marine animals have been proposed based on the feeding cues and behavior of the animal studied. We investigated plastic consumption in sea anemones. We found that anemones readily consumed pristine National Institute of Standards and Technology low-density polyethylene and high-density polyethylene II and III pre-production pellets. Anemone weight, crown area, and number of tentacles were measured before and after 12 days of daily pellet consumption. Crown area significantly increased for control anemones only. Fresh anemones were then sequentially fed consumed and egested pellets from two of the earlier daily trials to measure feeding retention time, which decreased over three to four feedings. The concentrations of elements in anemones (zinc, iron, arsenic, manganese, chromium, copper, vanadium, selenium, nickel, cadmium, and cobalt) were similar to control anemones that were not exposed to pellets. Lead concentrations were significantly higher in anemones fed HDPE III pellets as compared to control. Plastic consumption by marine animals might be reduced by reducing the amount of plastic that enters the ocean and understanding the chemical triggers underlying plastic consumption.