Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Plastic Trash Altering Ocean Habitats

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Plastic Trash Altering Ocean Habitats

Article excerpt

A 100-fold upsurge in humanproduced plastic garbage in the ocean is altering habitats in the marine environment, according to a new study led by a graduate student researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

In 2009 an ambitious group of graduate students led the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) to the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon. The researchers documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken-down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean.

At the time the researchers didn't have a clear idea of how such trash might be affecting the ocean environment, but a new study published in the journal Biology Letters reveals that plastic debris in the area popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased by 100 times over the past 40 years, leading to changes in the natural habitat of animals such as the marine insect Halobates sericeus. These "sea skaters" or "water striders" inhabit water surfaces and lay their eggs on flotsam. Naturally existing surfaces for their eggs include, for example, seashells, seabird feathers, tar lumps, and pumice. In the new study researchers found that sea skaters have exploited the influx of plastic garbage as new surfaces for their eggs. This has led to a rise in the insect's egg densities in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. …

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