Apr 20, 2008

Plastic pollution-a problem at the marine microbe level

Plastic pollution is one of the tragedies of modern technology. Example: on the macro scale, for example, untold millions of plastic cigarette lighters float in our rivers, lakes and seas.

Swallowed by seabirds, fish and and marine mammals, they may stay there, indigestible. Once the host has expired and decayed, the little ovoid cylinders pop loose and return to the surface, tempting yet another fish, bird or mammal to continue the ugly cycle until...? Plastic is well nigh indestructible, in biologic time.

Going from nature's macrocosm to her microcosm, a new study done for KIMO, a consortium of European coastal towns and associations focusing on marine pollution, found that microplastic particles are being found in in great number in Swedish and other coastal waters. Small enough to be eaten by larval fish and shellfish, as well as by protozoa and other marine microanimals. With...similar results?

While this problem has been known for the past few years, the new study found that the amount in seawater is actually up to a thousand times more than had been understood. The new study used a plankton net with a finer mesh than others had, and lo and behold, many more plastic particles. Small enough to be devoured by marine microorganisms.

Please read the KIMO report, (link below) if you've time. It's an 11 page pdf file. Well worth the reading and viewing. You'll gain a understanding of the nasty little plastic strands and blobs that we as a species release into the world's waters.

Small plastic particles in Coastal Swedish waters. (11 page pdf file)
By Dr. Fredrik Norén, marine consultant, N-Research www.n-research.se

About the marine protozoa who are ingesting microplastic

The KIMO report notes the sad physics of micro-plastic as pollution accumulators:

"Given the fact that organic pollutants accumulate on the plastic particles (Mato et al. 2001), this amount of small particles is extraordinarily serious since the area/volume quota of the particles increases with smaller particle volume (a large amount of small plastic particles may be a larger vector of organic pollutants than fewer large ones)."

Plastic microparticles attract pollutants onto their surfaces. Then the little one celled animals ingest them; themselves being consumed; the pollutant biomagnified or concentrated each strand higher of the food web. So consider polluted microbes, bioaccumulating whatever pollution adhere to the plastic microparticles they innocently ingest.

Isn't it time we began caring for our micro-ecosystems? The one-celled are the most abundant living organisms on earth, after all.

Image: Science Daily

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