Plastic Pollution and Associated Microorganisms in the North Pacific Gyre

by Chloe Mayne

Anthropogenic plastic pollution in the ocean has become extremely harmful to marine organisms and their environment. These problems include ingestion, entanglement, leaching of chemicals and adsorption of organic pollutants. The most common marine debris are small plastic fragments, which often are larger items that have been degraded. Microorganisms likely interfere with the degradation process as a result of biofilm formation on plastic surfaces. They may block plastic from UV radiation and photo-catalysis, which would increase plastic longevity. Inversely, microorganisms may accelerate degradation. Fouling microorganisms are extremely important to understanding the problems with plastic pollution, yet they have not been adequately studied. In this experiment, Carson et al. (2013) examine the abundance and diversity of microorganisms on plastics in the North Pacific Gyre. Continue reading

Micro-Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes

 

by Emil Morhardt

Here’s a follow-on to our August 21 post on plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. I know that this is unrelated to climate change, but the Climate Vulture is also interested in other environmental issues. Eriksen et al. (all associated with 5 Gyres Institute in Los Angeles in addition, in some cases, to their day jobs), are intent on tracking plastic pollution globally. This paper looks at the American Great Lakes, and consisted of a survey cruise across lakes Erie, Huron, and Superior in July 2012, towing a net for an hour at each of 21 sites. All but one sample were contaminated with micro-plastic debris, but with more than 90% of the plastic collected in Lake Erie off Buffalo and Cleveland. The average abundance was over 43,000 plastic particles per square kilometer (the densest samples had ten times this much), plus a lot of coal and fly ash particles, presumably from the many coal-fired power plants surrounding the lakes. Much of the debris consisted of multi-colored spherical micro-beads on the order of a third of a millimeter in diameter. Many of the potential sources such as sandblasting media were ruled out because Continue reading

Garbage Patch in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre

by Chloe Mayne

The marine environment contains a large amount of anthropogenic plastic pollution. While the Northern Hemisphere subtropical gyres (NHSG) have been found to contain plastics, there have been no data to suggest the existence of plastic pollution in the Southern Hemisphere subtropical gyres (SHSG). Recently, a large amount of plastic pollution has been found in the Southern Pacific Ocean and along the coastal shores. It has began to negatively impact fishing, tourism and navigation. In addition to the South Pacific, large amounts of plastic have also been found in the Southern Ocean and near Antarctica. In order to look at the presence of microplastics in the South Pacific subtropical gyre, Eriksen et al. (2013) surveyed a transect that crossed directly through the gyre and took 48 samples.  This transect was based on an accumulation zone created by currents and wind. The study found a greater amount of surface plastic pollution near the center of the transect than on the edges. These data prove… Continue reading