Aug 5 - Microbes Call Plastic Marine Pollution Home

The immense Eastern Garbage Patch, a mass of plastic debris in the ocean between Hawaii and California, could be more than just a patch of dormant waste. It could be home to: "extensive food chains of bacteria and single-celled animals that produce their own food, bacteria that feed on their waste products and predators that feed on all of them," according to a story in the LA Times.

These organisms attach themselves to tiny pieces of plastic debris and are a cause for concern. One sample of polypropylene, smaller than the head of a pin, was host to the genus vibrio, "which includes bacteria that cause cholera and gastrointestinal ailments."

Woods Hole, Massachusetts researchers Tracy Mincer, Erik Zettler and Linda Amaral-Zettler are conducting a study on the 'plastisphere' at locations in the North Atlantic.

"Each one of these plastic bits is a circle of life -- one microbe’s waste is another microbe’s dinner," Mincer said. "We want to know more about how some microbes may be hanging out on plastic trash, just waiting to be eaten by fish so they can get into that environment."

Plastic marine pollution can be deadly to fish, birds, sea turtles and other marine wildlife when they ingest it. These floating microbe communities, found on samples of polyethylene and polypropylene, include about 1,000 different types of bacteria, diatoms and algae; their impacts as yet unknown. Because plastic debris essentially never degrades, it could carry dangerous pathogens long distances across the ocean.

This is just another example of the need to reduce plastic marine pollution, which continues to be the single largest component of marine pollution, at the source. Plastic waste including polypropylene and polyethylene, costs west coast communities alone over $520 million each year --about $13 for each resident according to the US EPA.

Find out more about the rising tide of plastic marine pollution and how you can help stop it.

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