Alex Welsh for The New York Times SAN DIEGO — Three years ago, Dimitri Deheyn noticed intensely blue stringy shapes as he examined jellyfish samples through a microscope in his marine biology lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He assumed his lens was dirty, so he wiped it off with a special cloth. Then he tried taking it apart and airbrushing the optics. But the particles kept showing up. At first, Dr. Deheyn thought the culprit might be microplastics, tiny plastic bits that have invaded the oceans in the past decade. But a quick literature search revealed that the stringy shapes, each about a fifth as wide as a strand of hair, were actually microfibers from fabric. He wondered if they came from his students’ clothing, or the aquarium where the jellyfish was kept, or the freshwater used to wash down the equipment. But after he collected seawater samples from off Scripps’ research pier, it became clear that they had come in with the jellyfish from the ocean. Dr. Deheyn’s microscope problem prompted him to join the growing number of scientists who are scrambling to understand the magnitude of the problem […]

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