Odds and Ends: Tiny Shrimp Eat Plastic. Can Tennis Players Help?

Ok, ok the single marine biologist/tennis player I know through a friend, technically they’re amphipods and not shrimp or swimming lobster tails. But c’mon if you squint…
Source: Jamieson AJ et al. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 180667.

With Spring Break in full swing, those still slouching atop their ergonomic ball chairs staring forlornly out frosty office windows can only scowl, the feeling multiplied several fold as you encounter gravity, pick yourself off the floor and curse your modern ergonomic decision for the umpteenth time.

But nature can provide you with a dose of schadenfreude.

Picture the morass of inebriated as they shuffle onto scenic, yet microplastic strewn beaches to sunbathe. A human sighs heavily, settling into their hard won, beach towel laden spot. Suddenly, a pair of antennae materialize above the sand like periscopes, and twitch. With telepathic guidance from those at work, a certain species of amphipod known as the sand flea are compelled to take one well-aimed leap directly into the sunbather’s snoring mouth, causing instantaneous panic and wild gesticulation of both invertebrate and vertebrate alike.

Only funny when nobody gets hurt.

As beach, ocean and lake dwelling creatures these crustaceans are enormously diverse and found almost everywhere. Perhaps the most impressive of them (Fig. 2 as seen above in the header graphic) live in the deep ocean trenches as scavengers. Indeed, even the Mariana Trench which houses the Challenger Deep – the deepest known area in our oceans at an estimated 10,898 to 10,916 m straight down – is not bereft of amphipod. Or plastic waste apparently, as can be seen below.

Photo from a deep sea submersible showing a plastic bag, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Take a look at this graphic to convince yourself of how unfathomable an idea that is.
Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris. Sanae Chiba, Hideaki Saito, Ruth Fletcher, Takayuki Yogi, Makino Kayo, Shin Miyagi, Moritaka Ogido, Katsunori Fujikura. Marine Policy. Volume 96, October 2018, Pages 204-212.

The Study

It was there in the Mariana trench and five other deep ocean trenches (Fig. 1) at depths ranging from 7,000 m to 10,890 m that Jamieson AJ et al. trapped some humble Lysianassoidea amphipods of the species Hirondellea and Eurythenes gryllus. They showed that over 72% (65/90) of the tiny scavengers they examined had chowed down on microplastic, as evidenced by the presence of it within their digestive systems.

Microplastic incidentally is defined as plastics between 0.1 um and 5 mm that are the result of human industrial processes or pollution breakdown.

Interestingly or perhaps horrifyingly, 100% of the amphipods pulled from the Mariana Trench (MT-10,890 m) at near Challenger Deep depths had at least one piece of microplastic found within their digestive system, questioning whether the deepest areas of the ocean are acting as the ultimate trash sinks.

“There is now an established appreciation of microplastic pollution in our oceans and the detrimental effects this has on marine organisms.”

Jamieson AJ et. al.

What can we do?

It is profoundly upsetting that plastics have invaded sea life on both sides of even the most isolated depths of the Pacific Ocean – a body of water which presumably even the Flat Earth Society concurs is fairly large. As if the surface level Great Pacific Garbage Patch wasn’t enough, it seems we are nearing a point at which we may just have to in the words of the immortal Dean Winchester,Star Trek IV this bitch.

The Breguet Race for Water Odyssey 2017-2021 Ambassador Catamaran. Credit: Race for Water Foundation.

Now. If you’re not already into limiting single use plastics, recycling and/or donating to various oceanic based causes, you can start differently by supporting the Breguet sponsored catamaran above. Live vicariously with the crew, as you obsessively chart the only 100% self-sustainable catamaran in the world that uses three sustainable energies for propulsion – a giant kite, solar power, and hydrogen extracted from seawater with the solar power – as it travels around the world acting as a floating laboratory while porting in various countries to educate on conservation and introduce a technology called Biogreen that converts plastic to energy.

Now. If those aren’t attractive options, you can always be one with the tiny shrimp and consume some plastic – and therefore keep some plastic out of the ocean.

Allow me to further explain that you do not necessarily have to ingest the plastic, while stating that I do not have any financial disclosures.

Adidas x Parley shoe; made in collaboration with Sea Shepherd; supported by green chemist John Warner (WBI) and material innovator Bionic Yarn. Source: https://www.parley.tv/updates/2015/7/3/adidas-x-parley-collaborating-for-the-oceans

Parley for the Oceans is attempting to change the way we consume by pushing design of new products that maintain environmental friendliness and fiscal profitability. Adidas for example has partnered with Parley to craft sportswear and tennis shoes for men and for women.

The Smithsonian Institute Ocean Portal points us toward Norton Point sunglasses which are made from reclaimed ocean plastic; Unifi which weaves recycled plastic into thread used to create clothing, some of which have just won Mara Hoffman the sustainability award at New York’s Spring 2019 Fashion Week; and even an edible beer 6-pack ring (for marine life bro, but technically not totally indigestible to humans in a pinch) from Saltwater Brewery among numerous other things.


Plastics are now not only affecting marine life in the shallows, but the deep as well. This study reported the greatest depth at which marine life has been found to date with ingested plastic. One might posit that there is no marine life remaining that is unaffected. Considering that the foundation of human life and history has long been intertwined with the oceans, protection is paramount. But while the amphipods reflexively and unthinkingly ingest microplastics, what are those capable of higher thought, thinking?


  • If a somber reminder of our inextricable link to the oceans fails to trigger the appropriate portions of the brain, one can always supportively unite around amphipod preservation for schadenfreude (APS), here forward to be known as The Society for APS.
The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in San Francisco, CA post failed attempt at purchase of a newspaper. Please don’t let the fate of humanity in our time rest in their hands. Again. Credit: Paramount Pictures, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
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