St. Johns County's parks and recreation program took to Facebook after a shark washed ashore in Ponte Vedra with plastic debris around its neck.
The finetooth shark was found along the shore of Ponte Vedra Beach Friday.
St. Johns County staff said the 6-foot shark had a plastic brim of an old hat wrapped around its neck and gills.
Staff said the cause of death is undetermined without a necropsy but its death serves as an example of how plastic marine debris is a local and global issue.
Dr. Jim Gelsleichter says plastics -- big and small -- are impacting marine life.
Gelsleichter is a UNF biology professor and director of the university's coastal and marine biology program.
He said when a piece of plastic, such as a water bottle, ends up in the ocean, it’s broken down into tiny pieces -- called microplastics.
He showed Action News Jax reporter Brittney Donovan how he and his team use microscopes to detect the small fibers found in the guts of sharks.
"One hundred percent of our animals contained some microplastics in their gut, this can range from as few as one piece up to about 20 pieces," Gelsleichter said.
Gelsleichter said the microplastics can be passed up the food chain and studies are underway to find out if they are harmful to marine life and humans.
"There are some studies that have suggested that a greater micro plastic exposure in fishes might have certain health effects and also some behavioral effects, but I think its just really early in the game," he said.
Until more research is complete, he says everyone can do their part to protect marine life by reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the water.
"Certainly we hope that these things don’t happen but its kind of a learning experience," he said. "Something as simple as a piece of plastic falling overboard can have an impact on the life of another organism."
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