Impacts of plastic debris on biota and implications for human health: A South African perspective




pollution, microplastic, entanglement, ingestion, ecology


Entanglement and ingestion of plastics are the main ecological impacts of marine plastic debris on marine biota, but indirect effects such as the transport of alien species and benthic smothering are also important to note. Entanglement of invertebrates, sharks, turtles, birds and marine mammals is mainly caused by macroplastics (>5 mm), and leads to reduced mobility, ineffective foraging and subsequent mortality. The main plastic types associated with entanglement are improperly discarded fishing nets, lines, ropes and straps. In South Africa and surrounding waters, plastic ingestion has been reported in a number of marine species: sharks (n=10), fish (n=7), turtles (n=1) and birds (n=36). Lethal (macroplastic) and sub-lethal effects (microplastic ≤5 mm) of marine debris on biota have been noted, but at the time of this review there were no published reports on impacts at the population level. Consumed shellfish are possible vectors for the introduction of microplastics into humans. The specific impacts of microplastic ingestion on human health are largely unknown, but additives associated with plastics represent a threat. The research infrastructure in South Africa is insufficient to monitor and characterise marine plastic debris and, in many cases, not in line with global standards. More research effort is needed to understand the impacts of marine plastic debris on humans and marine biota in South Africa, particularly at the population level.


  • Macroplastics affect marine biota mainly via entanglement and microplastics largely through ingestion.
  • Macro- and microplastic interactions with biota can result in sub-lethal effects and mortality but no population effects have been reported for South Africa.
  • Consumed shellfish are a potential source of microplastics for humans but their potential effects in humans remain unknown.
  • Better infrastructure is needed for improved monitoring and research on the effects of marine debris in South Africa.


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How to Cite

Naidoo, T., Rajkaran, A., & Sershen. (2020). Impacts of plastic debris on biota and implications for human health: A South African perspective. South African Journal of Science, 116(5/6).



Marine Plastic Debris: Review Article
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