Oceans Filled with Plastic Trash – Changing Marine Ecology

Tiny bits of plastic now found throughout the world’s oceans

Ban single-use plastic: bags, bottles, cups etc, scientists say

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2012 (IPS)

Plastic trash is altering the very ecology of the world’s oceans. Insects called “sea skaters”, a relative of pond water striders, are now laying their eggs on the abundant fingernail-sized pieces of plastic floating in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean instead of relying on a passing seabird feather or bit of driftwood.

With an average of 10 bits of plastic per cubic metre of seawater, there are now plenty of places for sea skaters to lay eggs in a remote region known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, 1,500 kilometres west of North America. Not surprisingly, egg densities have soared, a new study has found.

“We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

This is the first proof that plastics in the open ocean are affecting marine invertebrates (animals without a backbone), which will have consequences for the entire marine food web.

“We simply don’t have the data to know what those consequences will be. It is a very remote region of the ocean, hard to get to and expensive to conduct research,” Goldstein told IPS.

The North Pacific Gyre is one of five large systems of rotating currents in the world’s oceans. It has become better known in recent years as theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch”. It has at least 100 times more plastic today than it did in 1972, according to the study published this week in the journal Biology Letters.

“There were no hard surfaces before in the North Pacific Gyre other than the occasional feather and piece of wood,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“The ocean looks pretty normal out there in the gyre. There is no floating island of trash as some people imagine,” Goldstein told IPS. Continue reading

Ocean Acidification Leaves Mollusks Naked and Confused

Chilean intertidal carnivorous crab (Acanthocyclus hassleri)

Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic…expect the worst

By Stephen Leahy

When the carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed and calcium carbonate, vital for the formation of the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms, becomes scarcer.

MONTEREY, California, Oct 2 2012 (IPS)

Climate change will ruin Chilean sea snails’ ability to sniff out and avoid their archenemy, a predatory crab, according to Chilean scientists who presented their findings at an international science symposium here.

Researchers from Australia also revealed that as the oceans become more and more acidic, some fish become hyperactive and confused, and move towards their predators instead of trying to escape.

“The conditions in oceans are changing 100 times faster than at any time in the past,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a marine biologist with CNRS-INSU and the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche in France.

Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic. “We are beginning to understand what will happen. I think we can expect the worst,” Gattuso told Tierramérica*.

Gattuso is one of nearly 600 scientists from around the world who presented their research on Sep. 24-27 at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World: Ocean Acidification in Monterey, California.

Researchers discovered only 10 years ago that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Continue reading

Plastic Circulating Endlessly in Oceans Killing Huge Numbers of Birds, Turtles, Fish and Marine Animals

“Degradable or compostable plastic should be banned….bio-plastics simply break down into microplastic particles”– scientist

By Stephen Leahy

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 24, 2011 (IPS)

That plastic bottle or plastic take-away coffee lid that has 20 minutes of use can spend decades killing countless seabirds, marine animals and fish, experts reported here this week.

On remote Pacific island atolls, diligent albatross parents unknowingly fill their chicks’ bellies with bits of plastic that resemble food. The chicks die of malnutrition, and when their bodies decay all those plastic bottle tops, disposable lighters, and the ubiquitous bits of plastic detritus get back into the environment in a cruel perversion of ‘recycling’.

There is now so much plastic in the oceans it is likely that virtually every seabird has plastic in its belly if its feeding habits mean it mistakes plastic bits for food. The same is true for sea turtles, marine animals or fish, experts say.

Northern fulmars, a common seabird numbering in the millions, have a collective 45 tonnes worth of plastic bits in their bellies, estimates Jan Andries van Franeker, a biologist with the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies at the University of Wageningen in Holland.

At least 95 percent of fulmars in the North Sea where van Franeker has been working for three decades have one to several dozen bits of plastic in their stomachs. The same is true for related species like the tiny Wilson’s storm petrels, which unknowingly transport an estimated 35 tonnes of plastic from their wintering grounds in the North Atlantic to breeding grounds in the Antarctic, he says.

“If a seabird’s feeding habits mean it could mistake plastic for food, then it will likely have plastic in its stomach,” he said in an interview at the week long Fifth International Marine Debris Conference, which ends Friday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Continue reading