Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Friday, January 7, 2022
Ocean plastic is creating new communities of life on the high seas
By News Release @ 3:41 AM :: 1930 Views :: Environment, Higher Education

Anika Albrecht of Ocean Voyages Institute collecting plastic. Credit: Ocean Voyages Institute.

Anika Albrecht of Ocean Voyages Institute collecting plastic. Credit: Ocean Voyages Institute.

Debris with coastal and open-ocean organisms. Credit: The Ocean Cleanup /Smithsonian Institution

Debris with coastal and open-ocean organisms. Credit: The Ocean Cleanup /Smithsonian Institution

Ocean plastic is creating new communities of life on the high seas

From University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Jan 6, 2022

Coastal plants and animals have found a new way to survive in the open ocean—by colonizing plastic pollution. A commentary published in Nature Communications reported coastal species growing on trash hundreds of miles out to sea in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, more commonly known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

The authors, including two oceanographers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), call these communities neopelagic. “Neo'' means new, and “pelagic” refers to the open ocean, as opposed to the coast.

For marine scientists, the very existence of this “new open ocean” community is a paradigm shift. Plastic is providing new habitat in the open ocean. And somehow, coastal rafters are finding food.

Now, scientists have to wrestle with how these coastal rafters could shake up the environment. The open ocean has plenty of its own native species, which also colonize floating debris. The arrival of new coastal neighbors could disrupt ocean ecosystems that have remained undisturbed for millennia. Vast colonies of coastal species floating in the open ocean for years at a time could act as a new reservoir, giving coastal rafters more opportunities to invade new coastlines.

Clues of 2011 tsunami

Scientists first began suspecting coastal species could use plastic to survive in the open ocean for long periods after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when they discovered that nearly 300 species had rafted all the way across the Pacific on tsunami debris over the course of several years. But until now, confirmed sightings of coastal species on plastic directly in the open ocean were rare, and the ability of coastal species to reproduce in the pelagic ocean was not proven.

Gyres of ocean plastic form when surface currents drive plastic pollution from the coasts into regions where rotating currents trap the floating objects—including microplastics, nets, buoys and bottles—carrying organisms from their coastal homes with them.

SOEST scientists Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner created models that could predict where plastic was most likely to pile up in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre and shared that information with Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit that collects plastic pollution on sailing expeditions. Together with other members of the team, they also designed, built and deployed a suite of Lagrangian instruments to observe physical and biological processes governing the floating ecosystem.

A new open ocean

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ocean Voyages Institute founder Mary Crowley and her team managed to collect a record-breaking 103 tons of plastics and other debris from the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. She shipped some of those samples to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) Marine Invasions Lab. There, lead author Linsey Haram analyzed the species that had colonized them. She found many coastal species—including anemones, hydroids and shrimp-like amphipods—not only surviving, but thriving, on marine plastic.

“The issues of plastic go beyond just ingestion and entanglement,” said Haram. “It’s creating opportunities for coastal species’ biogeography to greatly expand beyond what we previously thought was possible.”

As the world’s dependence on plastic continues to climb and with fiercer and more frequent storms on the horizon as a result of climate change, the authors expect even more of that plastic will get pushed out to sea. This long-overlooked side effect of plastic pollution, the authors said, could soon transform life on shore and in the sea.

The latest discovery is one of the main results of the FloatEco project, funded by NASA’s “Life in the Moving Ocean” initiative and led by Maximenko and Hafner teaming up with lead author of the publication and former postdoctoral fellow Haram; Greg Ruiz, head of the SERC Laboratory of Marine Invasions; Ocean Voyages Institute; and scientists from the Lagrangian Drifter Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Applied Physics Laboratory at University of Washington, Williams College, and Ocean and Fisheries Canada.


TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote


Aloha Pregnancy Care Center


Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Broken Trust

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

DVids Hawaii


Fix Oahu!

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Grassroot Institute

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii Legal News

Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance

Hawaii Matters

Hawaii Military History

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Together


Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

House Minority Blog

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

July 4 in Hawaii

Land and Power in Hawaii

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

NAMI Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

NFIB Hawaii News

NRA-ILA Hawaii


OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

Practical Policy Institute of Hawaii

Pritchett Cartoons

Pro-GMO Hawaii

Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

School Choice in Hawaii

Talking Tax

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Trustee Akina KWO Columns

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii