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Ocean Ecosystems

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The Plastisphere

The Plastisphere

Credit: Gerry & Bonni
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gerr-bon/6408224371/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A seal gets a plastic ring stuck around its neck. A sea turtle becomes tangled in a twist tie. Jellyfish filter feed labels into their bodies. Humans have created a new sphere in the oceans with their trash: the plastisphere.

Why It Matters

  • Plastic trash infests the oceans. Carried from land or vessels at sea, currents transport the trash into the gyres. The world’s biggest trash heap is within the North Pacific Gyre. The gyre is also a rich home for marine animals. Large trash, like 6-pack rings, is a danger to large marine creatures. Small and even microscopic animals are harmed by the small plastic bits that larger plastics break down to. Dangerous chemicals leach from the trash into the water.
  • A recent expedition found that at least 1000 different types of bacterial cells on these plastics. The researchers want to know what the bacteria are doing on the plastic. They also want to know if the microbes are doing harm or good for the oceans.

Explore More

With the links below, learn more about plastic trash in the oceans. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What is the plastisphere?
  2. What are the three major questions marine ecologists have about plastisphere?
  3. How could a ‘microbial reef’ change the marine ecosystem?
  4. Why do scientists worry about the plastisphere as a way of spreading disease in the marine environment?
  5. Why might it be harmful to the oceans for bacteria to break down these plastics?
  6. What can you do to reduce your impact on the plastisphere?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Gerry & Bonni; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gerr-bon/6408224371/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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