Distribution of microplastic and small macroplastic particles across four fish species and sediment in an African lake

Lemessa Merga*, P.E. Redondo-Hasselerharm, P.J. van den Brink, A.A. Koelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)


Pollution with microplastics has become an environmental concern worldwide. Yet, little information is available on the distribution of microplastics in lakes. Lake Ziway is one of the largest lakes in Ethiopia and is known for its fishing and drinking water supply. This study aims to examine the distribution of plastic particles, of all sizes (micro- and small macro-plastics) in four of the major fish species of the lake and in its shoreline sediment. The gastrointestinal tracts analysis showed that 35% of the sampled fishes ingested plastic particles. The median number of particles per fish was 4 (range 1–26). Benthic (Clarias gariepinus) and benthopelagic (Cyprinus carpio and Carassius carassius) fish species were found to contain a significantly higher number of plastic particles in comparison to the planktivorous fish species (Oreochromis niloticus). More fishes ingested plastic particles in the wet compared to the dry season. The maximum plastic size (40 mm fibre) was found in C. carpio. Estimated median mass of plastic particles in fish was 0.07 (0.0002–385.2) mg/kg_ww. Fish and sediment samples close to known potential sources of plastic particles had a higher plastic ingestion frequency (52% of the fish) and higher plastic concentration compared to the other parts of the lake. The median count and mass of plastic particles measured in sediment of the lake were 30,000 (400–124,000) particles/m3 and 764 (0.05–36,233) mg/kg_dw, respectively, the upper limits of which exceed known effect thresholds. Attenuated total reflection (ATR) - Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy showed that polypropylene, polyethylene and alkyd-varnish were the dominant polymers in fishes and in sediment. The plastic particles size distributions were Log-linear and were identical for plastic particles found in fish and in sediment, suggesting strong benthic-pelagic coupling of plastic particles transfer
Original languageEnglish
Article number140527
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date25 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Fish
  • Ingestion
  • Lake Ziway
  • Microplastic
  • Sediment
  • Size distribution


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