Quantcast

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

Oil palm plantations in northeastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia. Recently planted oil palms can be seen in the bright green grassy areas and a tiny bit of natural rainforest still struggles for survival farther away. Vaara / E+ / Getty Images

Palm Oil importers in Europe will not be able to meet their self-imposed goal of only selling palm oil that is certified deforestation-free, according to a new analysis produced by the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition, as Bloomberg reported.

Read More Show Less
Scientists found the most melting near Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island, NWT, Canada. University of Alaska Fairbanks Permafrost Laboratory

The Canadian Arctic is raising alarm bells for climate scientists. The permafrost there is thawing 70 years earlier than expected, a research team discovered, according to Reuters. It is the latest indication that the global climate crisis is ramping up faster than expected.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Cherries are one of the most beloved fruits, and for good reason.

Read More Show Less
A fuel truck carries fuel into a fracking site past the warning signs Jan. 27, 2016 near Stillwater, Oklahoma. J Pat Carter / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

For more than three decades, the U.S. government has mismanaged toxic oil and gas waste containing carcinogens, heavy metals and radioactive materials, according to a new Earthworks report — and with the country on track to continue drilling and fracking for fossil fuels, the advocacy group warns of growing threats to the planet and public health.

Read More Show Less
European Union blue and gold flags flying at the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium. 35007/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Newly adopted guidelines set forth by the European Commission Tuesday aim to tackle climate change by way of the financial sector. The move comes to bolster the success of the Sustainable Action Plan published last year to reorient capital flows toward sustainable investment and manage financial risks from climate change, environmental degradation and social issues.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering remarks to supporters at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto, Ontario on March 4. Arindam Shivaani / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that his government would once again approve the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the amount of oil transported from Alberta's tar sands to the coast of British Columbia (BC).

Read More Show Less
An exhausted polar bear wanders the streets of Norilsk, a Siberian city hundreds of miles from its natural habitat. IRINA YARINSKAYA / AFP / Getty Images

An exhausted, starving polar bear has been spotted wandering around the Siberian city of Norilsk, Reuters reported Tuesday. It is the first time a polar bear has entered the city in more than 40 years.

Read More Show Less
Bumblebees flying and pollinating a creeping thyme flower. emeliemaria / iStock / Getty Images

It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.

Read More Show Less