SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN AWARE for years that giant floating "islands" of plastic debris called gyres are polluting our oceans--not just the Pacific--but most of the world's major seas.
Now, new research on just HOW MUCH plastic in the oceans has shown just how little we understand what happens to manmade plastics when they enter the ocean. A team of researchers reports that 99% of the plastics that should be floating in the ocean are gone--but not really. The most likely explanation: they've become a part of the very fabric of life, entering the food chain of ocean creatures at the microbial level.
As Sciencemag.org reports, this could be a real horror story:
"Yes, animals are eating it,” says oceanographer Peter Davison of the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research in Petaluma, California, who was not involved in the study. “That much is indisputable.” But, he says, it’s hard to know at this time what the biological consequences are. Toxic ocean pollutants like DDT, PCBs, or mercury cling to the surface of plastics, causing them to “suck up all the pollutants in the water and concentrate them.” When animals eat the plastic, that poison could be going into the fish and traveling up the food chain to market species like tuna or swordfish. Or, Davison says, toxins in the fish “may dissolve back into the water … or for all we know they’re puking [the plastic] or pooping it out, and there’s no long-term damage. We don’t know.” (Full Article HERE.)
The rapid dissolving of plastic should come as no surprise. Other research teams have been studying the behavior and enviromental impacts of plastics on ocean life for some time. For example, Discovery News reported on the work of Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University in Chiba, Japan:
“We are now concerned that plastic pollution is caused by invisible materials,” Saido said through an interpreter. “This will have a great effect on marine life ..."
In their lab, Saido and colleagues used a new chemical technique to simulate the decomposition of polystyrene plastic in the oceans at 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). The process produced some potentially toxic chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer.
“Evan at 30 degrees Celsius, it decomposes,” said Saido’s colleague Yoichi Kodera, who also spoke at the conference. “In natural conditions, the tide comes in and sunlight heats the plastics,” he said, which should only enhance degradation." (full article HERE)
Editor's Note: Here's an interesting article about a company called Method that is trying to make recycled bottles out of ocean plastic waste. It won't solve the dissolved plastic problem, but it may be one tiny step in the right direction.