Singapore’s beaches harbour dangerous bacteria in its plastic wastes

February 14, 2019

There are millions of tonnes of plastic wastes in the ocean, and smaller plastics or microplastics are frequently mistaken as food by various marine organisms and add up in the food chain – potentially lethal to human and marine life.

Marine scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have recently found more than 400 types of bacteria on such microplastics collected from Lazarus Island, Sembawang Beach and Changi Beach in Singapore, between April and July last year.

The six-month study saw scientists using DNA sequencing to examine pieces of microplastics, finding species of bacteria responsible for wound infections and bowel inflammation in humans. The team even found bacteria associated with coral bleaching and disease, which can be detrimental for the conservation of coral reefs in the southern strait of Singapore.

Ms. Emily Curren, a PhD student at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) and the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science has explained that the identification of these dangerous and pathogenic bacteria is important in preventing the spread of diseases, since the microplastics were collected from popular recreational areas.

Dr. Sandric Leong, lead researcher and Senior Research Fellow at TMSI has said that understanding the distribution of microplastics and identifying the organisms attached to them are crucial to managing the plastic pollution both nationally and globally.

Fortunately, the NUS team also identified some species of bacteria capable of degrading plastic and cleaning up oil spills, thus providing “nature-friendly alternatives” in dealing with pollution.

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