Environment

Marine life can tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million tiny pieces

Marine life can tear a single ...
Scientists have found the crustacean Orchestia gammarellus can tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million different pieces of microplastic
Scientists have found the crustacean Orchestia gammarellus can tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million different pieces of microplastic
View 1 Image
Scientists have found the crustacean Orchestia gammarellus can tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million different pieces of microplastic
1/1
Scientists have found the crustacean Orchestia gammarellus can tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million different pieces of microplastic

Considering we pump millions of tons of plastic into the oceans every year, there is a hell of a lot we don't know about its whereabouts and its impact on the marine environment. A study examining how the material is torn apart by ocean life has uncovered some eye-popping evidence, finding that a single plastic bag is literally broken into millions of microscopic pieces before being spread throughout the seas.

It's hard to overstate the gravity of our plastic problem. Recent research tell us there is somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of the material washing into the oceans each year. But what makes all that trash so hard to track is that it is broken down into microplastic fragments that are smaller than the fingernail on your pinky.

Scientists say they have been able to account for roughly one percent of all plastic waste in the ocean, but there is still so much to learn about where it all goes after being swept away from open dumps and improperly secured landfills.

Looking into such matters is a team of marine scientists at the University of Plymouth, who conducted a study to learn more about how quickly different types of plastic are broken down by marine organisms, and whether the rate of degradation was impacted by biofilm (a layer of organic material that builds up on the plastic over time).

The team observed how the amphipod Orchestia gammarellus, which lives in coastal areas of northern and western Europe, broke down plastic bags. Through monitoring in the lab and along the shoreline, the scientists found the crustacean could tear a single plastic bag into 1.75 million separate pieces of microplastic, with the debris then found in and around their excrement.

The type of plastic, whether conventional, degradable or biodegradable, was found to have no impact on how quickly it were consumed, but interestingly, the presence of biofilm speed things up by four times. This throws further weight behind a growing body of research that suggests marine life can be enticed by ocean debris at mealtime, particularly when there is natural matter building up on its surface.

For example, a study last year found that seabirds were mistaking plastic debris for food because organic compounds were giving off a familiar stench. Within just three weeks, plastic samples placed in a contained environment had become coated in a sulfur compound called dimethyl sulfide (DMS), which happens to be the same compound (and smell) that the birds usually relied on to find krill for dinner.

"An estimated 120 million tonnes of single-use plastic items – such as carrier bags – are produced each year and they are one of the main sources of plastic pollution," said Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University Richard Thompson. "They already represent a potential hazard to marine life, but this research shows species might also be contributing to the spread of such debris. It further demonstrates that marine litter is not only an aesthetic problem but has the potential to cause more serious and persistent environmental damage."

The research was published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Source: Plymouth University

5 comments
ErstO
I think the bigger question is how do all these plastic bags end up in the ocean?.... I cant remember the last time I had anything bagged in a one time use plastic bag, although I do buy biodegradable bags for my waste receptacles, I assume these end up in land fills.... Who just tosses these bags to the curb to get washed out to sea?.... Heres an idea, put a one dollar tax on plastic bags, if that doesn't slow down the waste, rase it to two bucks, I guarantee you people will soon start bringing their own reusable bags.... We need to start being better stewards of our planet, if we cant do it by education, we can force it through monetary means.
Craig Jennings
Erst0 if you search for "Up to 95 per cent of plastic polluting the world's oceans pours in from just ten rivers" You'll be shocked... and not so shocked. Though it's a catastrophe no matter where it comes from, it answers why things are so bad when perhaps you, and everyone you know, recycles and doesn't litter.
piperTom
It turns out that it's easy to overstate our plastic problem. Using the high number from this piece and "doing the math", 12.6 million metric tons of waste per year will cause the ocean to become plastic to one part per billion in only [brace yourself!] one billion years. That's if nothing changes... But, as is the main point of this article, something is changing. Ocean life is learning to harvest the energy in the plastic -- and this is less than a hundred years since ANY plastic was put into the oceans. I don't mean to imply that humanity should not try to limit its waste; we certainly should. But it's not time to panic.
BrianK56
In our little community the plastic bags tend to accumulate in fields and against fences in the shopping district. Thankfully there are weekly cleanups by certain organizations. There's only one answer to how they get there, people just throw them out. We are not responsible enough to have this type of packaging. We need to go back to paper bags.
chase
The problem isn't just how much plastic trash is entering the ocean. The concern is it's being eaten. And it's accumulative in those eating it. And humans eat the ocean inhabitants. It's a main food source worldwide. Humanity doesn't give a hoot until it effects human health for the most part on any given issue. It's proven through history humans usually only take post measures to correct an issue. They rarely look to the future as a whole. They rarely do a damn thing until it's become such a overwhelming issue that it can't be ignored further. What's sad is what's on the surface and under the ocean is sight unseen by the masses. So until you can't eat the fish be it from fresh or salt water, I doubt a damn thing will be done pro active. Of course, it's post active at this point anyway in reality. When the massive swirling garbage floating garbage pit was discovered decades ago, something should have been done. But.. nah. Humans can't be bothered. It'll cost to much money. Besides, it's easier to blame other countries for the problem. Rather than just doing our part to rectify the problem. We ignore it, pretend it's not there. When it hits us in the face, we argue about"who's" to blame. Because taking blame, costs someone money. And no one what's to hold that bag. It's all bs in the end. The human specie's suck for the planet. A plague on the Earth. We destroy it, then act like we're doing it a favor by sticking a bandage on the wound.