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Even Old Father Thames Cannot Escape From Plastic Pollution


The River Thames flowing down through England to London, and on to the sea, is a world famous river.  

In 1957, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames biologically dead. News reports from that era describe it as a vast, foul-smelling drain.  From the 1960s, as London's sewage system improved, the river began to breathe again.  A more general cleanup followed in the 1970s and 1980s to such an extent that 125 species of fish were found (up from almost none in the 1950s).

Now, the River Thames is so severely polluted with plastic that it is reshaping its shores and harming its wildlife.


What have researchers found?

Researchers from ZSL London Zoo, the National History Museum and Royal Holloway have discovered that 94,000 microplastic particles flow through the river every second in some places.

The most common types of plastic were packaging and clothing fibers followed by glitter, microbeads and balloons.

At the same time, so called "flushable" wet wipes (discharged from sewage pipes) ,are clumping together to form wet wipe reefs.

The project manager from ZSL London Zoo and part of the research team said:  "Plastic pollution is devastating for aquatic ecosystems and I was shocked by the densities we found."

In their own study, Royal Holloway found tangles of up to 100 pieces of plastic  in crabs' stomachs with evidence that those same crabs had consumed everything from sanitary pads to elastic bands.  Alex McGoran (a PhD researching leading the crab study) said:  "Upon bringing these crabs back to the labs at the Natural History Museum, it was shocking to find that they were full of plastic."


Is plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans going to get worse?

While more and more of us are becoming aware of the problem, the current situation as a result of Covid-19 is going to make the plastic pollution even worse.  We all know how many billions of single use plastic items of personal protection equipment are now being used.

And we can also have a good idea of where many of them are going to end up.  It is not only the River Thames that is going to suffer...