My partner (Scott Minihkeim), my professor at SUNY Oswego (C. Eric Hellquist), and I collaborated with scientists at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Oswego, NY to study the prevalence of microplastics in the stomachs of forage fish in Lake Ontario.
The main goal of our study was to see whether fish were ingesting microplastics, and, if so, whether there were any correlations between microplastic ingestion and the species of fish, location at which the fish was collected, depth at which that species was known to forage, etc.
Our study is unique in that it is the only one studying ingestion of microplastics by fauna in Lake Ontario; to date, all others focus on plastics on the shoreline and in the benthic sediments.
Lake Ontario resides at the lowest elevation in the Great Lakes watershed, thus receiving pollution that enters from throughout the entire watershed. If there is a problem with microplastics, it will most certainly show up here.
Protocol & Results
The USGS, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry kindly caught extra fish for us during their annual bottom trawls.
We removed the digestive tracts of the fish, then dissolved and vacuum filtrated them. We then analyzed the stomach contents for microplastic pollution.
Of the 330 fish sampled from the lake (including round goby, slimy sculpin, alewife, and deepwater sculpin), only 9 fish did not contain some sort of microplastic pollution.
Our research is currently in review for publication in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.
Since starting the research, we have done many presentations, including at the International Association for Great Lakes Research (Detroit, MI), New York Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (Buffalo, NY), and at the Great Lakes Restoration Conference (Buffalo, NY).
Our research has also been written about in the Palladium Times and the Oswego Alumni Magazine.