There might be some good news on the horizon for the world’s oceans — new studies show that although more plastic is being dumped than ever before, there is less accumulating than there should be.
Our oceans are riddled with garbage patches and you’ve probably seen the harrowing images of whales and sea birds full of rubbish. Plastic production and disposal is increasing at an alarming rate, yet surprisingly there is only about a tenth to a hundredth as much plastic as expected.
This applies even to the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a critical area where swirling currents of water trap plastics and prevent them from leaving, accumulating large amounts over short periods of time.
Scientists have not been able to wrap their heads around any physical processes responsible for this statistic. Other surveys agree with these findings, but also are incapable of pinpointing the evidence behind the data.
Researchers have proposed that there may be evolving microbes capable of biodegrading the plastic. These communities of bacteria have created an entirely new ecosystem that New Scientist is referring to as the ‘plastisphere’ — as coined by Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
A paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment shows that “using mathematical and computer models, this observation could be explained by the nonlinear coupling between plastic (as a resource) and an evolved set of organisms (the consumers) capable of degrading it.”
However, plastic degradation may not bear the best news for marine life. As plastic is broken down into smaller pieces, it becomes easier to be swallowed and cause detriment within the bodies of animals.
Prevention of plastics getting dumped into our oceans remains the best solution.