Ocean Plastiphere: A World Discovered


Plastic debris found in the Plastiphere are home to microscopic microbes as well as living organisms,

New research published in American Geophysical Union revealed the potential harm that microbes, or microscopic organisms,  living on floating ocean plastics pose to invertebrates, humans, and other animals.  The living community of microbial organisms thriving on ocean plastic, also known as the “Plastiphere”, is an ecosystem that is not widely studied.

Erik Zettler and his colleagues at the Sea Education Association aimed to document the influence of the plastic pollutants on the marine environments.  Researchers found that the Plastiphere communities are distinct from surrounding surface water, suggesting that plastic is a new ecological habitat for many organisms in the open ocean.

Plastic is the most common form of marine debris, partially due to its long lifespan.  Its surface repels water which is what promotes microbial colonization, different from other materials floating in the ocean.  The global annual production of plastic produced annually is estimated at 245 million tons, so it is not surprising that some fraction of this waste ends up in the ocean. Furthermore, over 1,000 different microbes have been discovered to live on plastics in the ocean, and many have the potential to cause diseases in animals and humans.

The study looked into how the Platisphere has been impacting the surrounding ocean.  Some studies suggest that the microbes can thrive with the help of fish, which ingest the plastic and provide nutrients as they pass through the fish.  Understanding the Plastiphere can be a crucial step in decreasing pollution in the ocean, and future research is critical in determining its impacts.


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Journal Reference

Eric R Zettler, Tracy J Mincer, Linda A Amaral-Zettler. Life in the “Plasiphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris. American Geophysical Union, 2014.

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