Class: Microplastics pervade owl poop
This semester, an ecology class at Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley researched the presence of microplastics in the local ecosystem. We hypothesized that the resident great horned owl pellets would contain traces of microplastics. Furthermore, finding microplastics in owl pellets would prove that microplastics move through and contaminate the entire food web because owls are apex predators. Microplastics are classified as pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm that are usually colorful.
We tested our theory by collecting owl pellets from a great horned owl nesting location found on the CMC Spring Valley Campus. We gathered several pellets, dissected the materials within the pellet, and further broke apart the pellets using a liquid mixture. We then observed the samples under a microscope and observed small reflective particles.
To confirm that the particles were plastic, we burned them with a flame. Particles that were made up of organic material turned black and charred. Microplastics, however, melted and produced the smell of melting plastic.
Our experiment confirmed our hypothesis and showed the presence of microplastics in the pellets. In addition, we found a 6 mm object embedded that displayed qualities of plastic when burned. This object would be classified as a macroplastic. Any plastic contamination is alarming and demands action.
Further research is necessary, as this evidence leads us to believe that the presence of microplastics in less trafficked areas raises concerns for the rest of the community. Therefore, we encourage all residents to reduce their use of single-use plastics and always clean out and properly dispose of waste.
Nathan Thompson, Arely Cervantes, Jessica Wurtsmith, Haven Larrabee- Davis, Max Kilcoyne
Sara Gordon’s Ecology Class, Fall 2022 Spring Valley