Lots of life in the ocean’s landfill

07 December, 2021

Plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean is home to a wealth of marine life.
That could be a bad sign.

One of the major ocean current vortex areas in the Pacific Ocean has received the not-very-flattering name “The Great Pacific Sweep”. There is a large amount of plastic floating around here, around 79,000 tons on an area of about 1.6 million square kilometers, between California and Hawaii.

“Everything possible ends up here. It’s not a plastic island, but it’s definitely large amounts of plastic that end up here,” researcher Linsey Haram told the BBC.

Researchers in the area have examined objects larger than five centimeters in diameter, and they have seen that some form of marine life lives in 90 percent of plastic objects.

Can live long

These are anemones, small animals, mollusks and crabs. Many of the animals found were those that normally live in coastal areas, not thousands of kilometers out to sea. The fact that small animals can travel long distances at sea also happens naturally, for example on wooden branches and the like.

But the fact that the plastic is so difficult to degrade means that it can become home to the animals for much longer than unlike, for example, wood, which decomposes naturally.

“Liquid plastics create a more permanent opportunity for coastal species to move across ocean basins and, with a long-term lasting habitat, colonize the open ocean,” the researchers write in the article published in Nature.

The tsunami provided knowledge

The realization of how marine litter can affect ecosystems came, among other things, after the tsunami in Japan in 2011, where a large amount of debris was swept out to sea. Several marine species living in Japan were found alive on objects that reached the U.S. Pacific coast and Hawaii, after traveling 6,000 kilometers. Not only had the species survived – they had also multiplied on the rubble.

The researchers therefore fear that plastic debris will bring invasive species, which can have difficult-to-understand effects. It could “alter ocean ecosystems and change invasion dynamics on a global scale, suggesting the urgent need to address the diverse and growing effects of plastic pollution on land and in oceans,” the researchers write.

Text: Gustav Sjöholm/TT
Photo: Martin Mejia/AP/TT

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