Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Plastic Pollution Harms Ocean Bacteria That Produce 10 Percent of Earth's Oxygen

Popular
mattpaul / RooM / Getty Images

It's well known that ocean plastics harm marine life, but could the eight million metric tons of plastic that enters the seas each year also make it harder for us to breathe?


That's the troubling implication of a new study published in Communications Biology Tuesday, which found that plastic pollution can have negative impacts on the ocean bacteria that produces 10 percent of Earth's oxygen.

"We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean's most abundant photosynthetic bacteria," lead study author and Macquarie University researcher Dr. Sasha Tetu said in a Macquarie University press release.


The tests were done in a laboratory setting, which means the researchers do not yet know if plastics are currently harming the bacteria in the environment.

"Now we'd like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean," Tetu said.

The study is the first of its kind to look at the potential impacts of plastic on this vital bacteria, which, in addition to producing oxygen, are an essential part of the marine food web. Researchers assessed two strains of Prochlorococcus common at different depths of the ocean. They exposed the strains to chemicals leached from plastic bags and PCV matting. The chemicals had a noted impact on the bacteria, impairing their growth and the amount of oxygen they produced, as well as altering their gene expression.

"This study revealed a new and unanticipated danger of plastic pollution," paper co-author and Macquarie University Research Fellow Lisa Moore told The Independent.

The researchers pointed to the importance of better understanding how plastic pollution impacts smaller organisms at the base of the food web.

"Our data shows that plastic pollution may have widespread ecosystem impacts beyond the known effects on macro-organisms, such as seabirds and turtles," Tetu said in the university press release. "If we truly want to understand the full impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment and find ways to mitigate it, we need to consider its impact on key microbial groups, including photosynthetic microbes."

Moore told The Independent how plastic might impact these microbes and the environment that depends on them going forward:

"If management of plastic waste is left unattended, prochlorococcus populations could decrease in some locations, which could affect the other organisms that depend on prochlorococcus for food," Dr. Moore said.

"It is possible that some prochlorococcus are already affected when in close proximity to plastics.

"However, it would be decades before enough plastics build up in the oceans to affect prochlorococcus populations on a global scale."

If the current rate of plastic pollution continues unchecked, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Derrick Jackson

By Derrick Z. Jackson

As much as hurricanes Katrina and Maria upended African American and Latinx families, the landfall of the coronavirus brings a gale of another order. This Category 5 of infectious disease packs the power to level communities already battered from environmental, economic, and health injustice. If response and relief efforts fail to adequately factor in existing disparities, the current pandemic threatens a knockout punch to the American Dream.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable meeting with energy sector CEOs in the Cabinet Room of the White House April 3 in Washington, DC. Doug Mills-Pool / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

A coalition of climate organizations strongly criticized President Donald Trump's in-person Friday meeting with the chief executives of some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, saying the industry that fueled climate disaster must not be allowed to profiteer from government giveaways by getting bailout funds or preferred treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

An Important Note

No supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification — aside from social distancing and practicing proper hygiene ⁠— can protect you from developing COVID-19.

The strategies outlined below may boost your immune health, but they don't protect specifically against COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Zak Smith

It is pretty amazing that in this moment when the COVID-19 outbreak has much of the country holed up in their homes binging Netflix, the most watched show in America over the last few weeks has been focused on wildlife trade — which scientists believe is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is about wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the appearance of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian flu and probably COVID-19 in humans is a result of wildlife exploitation. As a conservationist, this is one of the things I've been thinking about while watching Tiger King. Here are five more:

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Hector Chapa

With the coronavirus pandemic quickly spreading, U.S. health officials have changed their advice on face masks and now recommend people wear cloth masks in public areas where social distancing can be difficult, such as grocery stores.

But can these masks be effective?

Read More Show Less