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Plastic Pollution Biomass Microbial Colonization Could Disrupt Oceans’ Biodiversity, Biogeochemical Cycles, FAU Harbor Branch Researchers Conclude

Conservative estimates suggest that about 1 percent of microbial cells in the ocean surface microlayer inhabit plastic debris globally. This mass of cells would not exist without plastic debris in the ocean, and thus, represents a disruption of the proportions of native flora in that habitat.

Science can help bolster the urgency to create beneficial public policy, as well as illuminate new pathways to discover other areas of an issue that also need attention.

We all know plastic pollution is ruining our oceans, but a research project underway at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Research Institute shows yet another startling aspect of that environmental degradation.

Trillions of plastic debris fragments are afloat at sea, creating the “perfect storm” for microbial colonization.  Introduced more than 50 years ago, plastic substrates are a novel microbial habitat in the world’s oceans.  This “plastisphere” consists of a complex community comprised of bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic microorganisms and microscopic animals.

These unnatural additions to sea surface waters and the large quantity of cells and biomass carried by plastic debris has the potential to impact biodiversity, ecological functions and biogeochemical cycles within the ocean.  Biofilm formation in the marine environment – a collective of one or more types of microorganisms that can grow on many different surfaces – is a complex process, involving many variables.

Simply, conservative estimates suggest that about one percent of microbial cells in the ocean surface microlayer inhabit plastic debris globally.  This mass of cells would not exist without plastic debris in the ocean, and thus, represents a disruption of the proportions of native flora in that habitat.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, in collaboration with Utrecht University, Netherlands, the University of Amsterdam, and The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), examined cell abundances, size, cellular carbon mass, and how photosynthetic cells differ on polymeric and glass substrates over time.

Read more about this important project here:   http://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/plastic-debris-biomass.php/newsdesk/articles/green-banana-blue-hole.php