How The Increasing Plastic Debris In The Great Pacific Garbage Patch May Alter The Ocean's Ecosystem

By Meera Dolasia on May 14, 2012

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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

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155 Comments
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  • AlexWednesday, September 7, 2016 at 11:45 am
    People lets don't litter.... AND YOU CAN PANIC
    • AlexTuesday, September 6, 2016 at 11:42 am
      That plastic is makin' ANIMALS DIE
      • luisTuesday, September 6, 2016 at 10:42 am
        That was bad
        • DDD 마도Monday, June 6, 2016 at 5:47 am
          People litter a lot...............
          • LSaturday, June 4, 2016 at 11:03 pm
            Let's don't litter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
            • Awesome manTuesday, March 15, 2016 at 12:18 pm
              I hate that there are people out there that are littering and ignore it each and everyday.
              • KrpytoThursday, February 11, 2016 at 2:22 pm
                Oh No! Not debris in ocean.:(:(
                • goodThursday, December 31, 2015 at 12:41 pm
                  Can everyone stop disturbing the ocean! And use less plastic! See a another article named "Twenty-Year-Old Boyan Slat Takes On The Monumental Task Of Cleaning Our Oceans" pls read this article to save ocean!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                  • mykelaberu
                    mykelaberuMonday, December 14, 2015 at 9:49 am
                    It is not nice to litter because it kills sea animals. It will mess up the food chain and that is bad. Stop littering and it will help. It will save about 100 animals and that is a lot.
                    • animals_awsome
                      animals_awsomeThursday, March 24, 2016 at 7:02 am
                      I agree, plus it takes awhile for animals to die or give birth and whatever the animal eats will die off and the animal will keep eating till there's like nothing left! :(
                      • animals_awsome
                        animals_awsomeThursday, March 24, 2016 at 7:03 am
                        PLEASE STOP LITTERING!! IF THE ANIMALS WERE US THEY WOULD NOT LITTER BECAUSE IT IS THEIR HOME AND THEY WOUlD HAVE TO SHARE AND PLUS ANIMALS ARE NICE! (WE ARE NOT)
                    • jutadidoto
                      jutadidotoMonday, December 14, 2015 at 9:28 am
                      I like the theory that we can estimate how much plastics we through away and do somting to get rid of them.

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