My experience with earthworms is very limited. When I lived in the Midwest, I know that they would show up almost everywhere after a sudden rain, even more so after a thunderstorm. We used them on the rare occasion when childhood friends decided to go fishing, even though I hated the thought of pushing a hook through their bodies. Outside of those two situations, I can’t remember ever needing worms for anything. But I do know that they’re an important part of the earth’s ecosystem.
Microplastics are currently becoming more and more of an issue. We now know that the plastic garbage in our oceans is breaking down into microplastics and those tiny particles are being found in fish that are part of the food chain. The microplastics are also being found on land and in the soil.
An article posted on theguardian.com titled “Worms Fail to Thrive in Soil Containing Microplastics” discusses a study authored by Bas Boots, a lecturer in biology at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom. The article cites the research that found worms do not thrive in earth that has microplastics.
It says, “The rosy-tipped earthworm, Aporrectodea rosea, is one of the most common found in farmland in temperate regions. Scientists found that worms placed in soil loaded with high density polyethylene (HDPE) – a common plastic used for bags and bottles – for 30 days lost about 3% of their body weight, compared with a control sample of similar worms placed in similar soil without HDPE, which put on 5% in body weight over the same period.”
While they’re not sure exactly what caused the weight loss in the worms, they do think the microplastics affected the digestive tracts as well as limited their absorption of nutrients. If this happens on a wide scale, soil health and farming are at risk.
The article also says, “The research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, adds to a growing number of studies examining the effects of microscopic particles of plastics on invertebrates and fish. While it is too soon to draw conclusions about the effects on human health, studies have found harm to aquatic lugworms as well as possible effects on fish and molluscs.”
“Soils in many places are likely to harbour large numbers of microplastics, deposited there from their presence in sewage, in water and in the air. However, the extent of contamination is largely unknown, though there are European studies reporting anything between 700 and 4,000 plastic particles per kilogram of soil in some agricultural land.”
Microplastics have now been discovered in oceans and seas around the world, in the air, in tap water, and even in human waste. The contamination continues to spread.
Now check out this video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.