How The Increasing Plastic Debris In The Great Pacific Garbage Patch May Alter The Ocean's Ecosystem
We are all aware of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the humongous pile of plastic and other garbage that is floating under the waters of the Pacific Ocean. However, most of us choose to ignore it, probably because we hardly ever see it and, it has had very little impact on our day-to-day lives - So far!
However, a recent study released by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego has revealed that the increasing amount of plastic debris may lead to a dramatic increase in the population of certain organisms and marine animals, which in turn, will result in the demise of others, altering the eco balance that currently exists.
The research conducted by graduate student Miriam Goldstein involved the study of an organism commonly known as Sea Strider. Related to Pond Striders commonly found in freshwater lakes, they reproduce by laying their eggs on anything that is floating in the ocean. While in the past that meant natural things like seashells, seabird feathers etc., they now have a new place - the hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic that float around in the garbage patch.
While that in itself is alarming, what is even more so, is the fact that the number of pieces of plastic that measure less than 0.2 inches in diameter has increased by 100 times over the last 40 years. This means that these organisms now have more places to lay their eggs.
As more of these creatures thrive, it could have a major impact on the existing natural food web and end up changing the ocean's ecosystem irreversibly. Miriam is worried that what could end up happening is that the population explosion of the Sea Strider would be good for its main predators - crabs. However, it would be disastrous for tiny animals like zooplankton and fish eggs that the Sea Strider feeds on.
And because they are not the only organisms that depend on these tiny animals, it could result in a shortage of food supply killing off marine animals that other, bigger fish depend on and begin a whole chain of irreversible events, toppling the current relatively balanced ecosystem forever.
Also, while the study was done just on the plastic floating around in the largest underwater patch that scientists estimate to be twice the size of the US State of Texas, the same is probably true with the other garbage patches that lurk under the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
In addition to this there is also the ongoing danger of marine life dying because they mistake the colorful plastic pieces for food. A study released by the Institute last year revealed that up to 24,000 tons of plastic was being ingested by the fish, annually.
So how do we avoid this potential catastrophe? By making smart choices and avoiding plastic as much as possible. If the estimates that an average American disposes of three and half pounds of trash every single day are correct, we all have plenty of room to cut back by making better choices.
Resources: csmonitor.com, earthtimes.org