Plastic debris floating around the ocean has been studied for years as its massive man made islands increase. The effects to ocean life, waterways and the seafood industry are all on the research radar.
One recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology has provided an interesting look into the oceans’ plastic pollution.
The research team, reminding that plastic is the most plentiful form of marine debris, were interested in looking at the impact of plastics on the oceans’ ecosystems. Specifically wanting to understand microbial communities, they examined several locations in the North Atlantic. To investigate what effects plastics have had on microbial systems they collected plastic debris from different spots and then analyzed them using high resolution imaging, scanning electron microscopy and next-generation sequencing techniques in order to depict the microbial systems operation.
What they found in the water samples under analysis was a varied assortment of life including heterotrophs, autotrophs and symbionts. These predators, algae and bacteria also included species that have yet to be identified.
The scientists refer to this diverse community of microbial life as “the plastisphere“.
The researchers also noted that the plastisphere groups were different than the surrounding surface water in that the ecosystems were found to be much more diverse than other tested water samples.
Under examination they found pits which could be seen in the surface of the plastic debris that actually took on bacterial shapes.
The communities seemed to have a typical natural order in that plant-like organisms existed at the bottom of the food chain and more advanced organisms were at the top, and there were also organisms that co-existed. Also, their surveys showed that it is possible microbes may have a role in breaking down plastic marine debris.
The study concluded that the that ocean’s plastic pollution accumulations have been able to operate as synthetic microbial reefs, and that the organisms that occupy the plastisphere are not only different than other life forms but exist at a heightened level of diversity.
This research provides an interesting look into what is living amongst all of the floating plastic islands.
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