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Plastic replacing fish in the Danube

The Danube is so polluted that there are now more plastic particles than fish larvae in the water according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria which is one of the 10 countries that the Danube crosses say there are now so many plastic particles in the water that they estimate the Danube dumps 4.2 tonnes of it into the Black Sea each day.

The team from the Department of Limnology and Oceanography said that their initial plan had simply been to see how many fish larvae there were in the waters of the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava, but they found there were actually more microscopic plastic waste particles than larvae.

In a two-year study published in the journal Environmental Pollution the researchers found 317 plastic particles weighing 4.8 grams, whereas there were 257 fish larvae weighing just 3.2 grams, per 1,000 cubic meters of waters along various points in the stretch of river between Vienna and Bratislava.

Because the current is stronger in the middle of the river and capable of transporting more, researcher Hubert Kickeis said the estimate may actually be on the low side. In addition the 4.2 tonne estimate did not include larger plastic objects such as plastic bags or bottles, nor did it include particles smaller than a half a millimetre which would not have been picked up by the net that was used to filter the water.

He said almost 80 percent of the plastic waste appears to be of industrial origin and is in the form of flakes and pellets, and that the situation was probably the same at other rivers around the world – describing what they had found as a "global phenomenon".

He added that the significance of the findings should not be underestimated. Fish for example could be harmed by eating the particles which were now so prolific in the water that they could easily be mistaken for food, causing blockages internally inside the fish and leading to their death, along with chemical traces that could be passed on to humans through fish consumption.

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