Photo of a diver swimming with a school of fish.

Meet an important yet little-known marine organism impacted by plastic pollution and understand why it is a key part of the marine food web and carbon cycle.

What is a lanternfish?

Lanternfish are some of the smallest and most abundant fish in our oceans and they have some important roles in the ocean’s food web. Lanternfish are about the size of a sardine or anchovy and they have small bioluminescence spots on their bellies. The scientific name for lanternfish is Myctophid.

Why are lanternfish important?

Because of their abundance and size, lanternfish are at the base of the oceanic food web. In addition to being an important food source, they also play a key role in the carbon cycle. By swimming down deep underwater everyday and excreting the plankton they ate in the surface waters, lanternfish help sequester, or separate, carbon from the atmosphere to the deep sea where it stays for a long time [1]. These fish are an important part of the carbon cycle and therefore, protecting them is also important for reducing climate change.

How are lanternfish being impacted by human activity?

Unfortunately, microplastics polluting the ocean are also impacting lanternfish populations. This is threatening the ocean’s ecological systems. One of Algalita’s studies in the North Pacific Ocean showed that 35% of the lanternfish collected had ingested plastic [2]. Read a summary of the research here. A more recent study found plastics had been ingested by 68% of the 364 lanternfish they collected [3].


[1] See Eduardo, L., Bertrand, A., Mincarone, M., et al. (2021) Distribution, vertical migration, and trophic ecology of lanternfishes (Myctophidae) in the Southwestern Tropical Atlantic, Progress in Oceanography, Volume 199, available at

[2] See Boerger, C., Lattin, G., Moore, S., Moore, C., (2010) Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 60, Issue 12, available at

[3] See Ferreira, G., Justino, A., Eduardo, L., et al. (2023). Influencing factors for microplastic intake in abundant deep-sea lanternfishes (Myctophidae), Science of The Total Environment, Volume 867 available at

Scientist on boat at sea take study fish samples at sunset.

Scientists on board the Alguita take blood samples from lanternfish caught during a night trawl. ​Photo credit: Algalita, 2014.

Scientist on boat at sea take study fish samples at sunset.

Scientists take a blood sample from a lanternfish to study the impacts of plastic ingestion. Photo credit: Algalita, 2014.

Scientist on boat at sea take study fish samples at sunset.

A bucket with an ocean water sample containing microplastics and plankton including a lanternfish. Photo credit: Algalita, 2014.

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