Plastic ingestion and trophic transfer between Easter Island flying fish (Cheilopogon rapanouiensis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) from Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Catherine Chagnon, Martin Thiel, Joana Antunes, Joana Lia Ferreira, Paula Sobral, Nicolas Christian Ory

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Millimetre-sized fragments have been documented in many fish species, but their transfer through food webs is still poorly understood. Here we quantified and described plastic fragments in the digestive tracts of 43 Easter Island flying fish (Cheilopogon rapanouiensis) and 50 yellowfin tunas (Thunnus albacares) from coastal waters around Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the South Pacific subtropical gyre, and of fish preyed upon by T. albacares. Overall, seven C. rapanouiensis (16%) individuals had ingested microplastics, most of which resembled the common planktonic prey of the fish. One microplastic was found in the gut of a fish ingested by a tuna, which indicates that trophic transfer may occur between tuna and prey. A single T. albacares (2%) had ingested five mesoplastics (15.2–26.3 mm) that were probably not mistaken for prey items, but rather accidentally ingested during foraging on fish prey. The absence of microplastics in T. albacares suggests that such small particles, if transferred from the prey, do not accumulate in the relatively large digestive tract of large predators. On the other hand, larger plastic items may accumulate in the gut of tunas, to which they may induce deleterious effects that still need to be examined. However, only a small portion of the fish had ingested mesoplastics. The results of this study suggest that microplastic contamination is not an immediate threat to large predatory fish, such as T. albacares, along the coast of Easter Island within the South Pacific subtropical gyre. Microplastics may be transferred from fish prey to their predators, but do not remain in the predators’ guts. Mesoplastics may accumulate in the guts of large predators, but are only ingested by few fish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-133
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Mesoplastics ingestion
  • Microplastic ingestion
  • Planktivorous fish
  • Predatory fish
  • South Pacific subtropical gyre
  • Trophic transfer


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