Floating debris creating new ocean ecosystems dubbed 'Plastispheres''

July 10, 2013 at 4:50 PM
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WOODS HOLE, Mass., July 10 (UPI) -- Masses of plastic debris floating in areas of the world's oceans have become new ecological communities U.S. scientists say they've dubbed the "Plastisphere."

Tiny organisms from algae to bacteria that thrive on plastic debris in these novel habitats in the North Atlantic Ocean may harbor potential disease-causing microbes, they said.

Previous studies have examined the damaging effects such plastic in the oceans has on fish, birds and other seafaring animals, but scientists had yet to explore what plastic does to some of the smallest ocean inhabitants.

Erik Zettler of the Sea Education Association, Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory said they discovered algae and bacteria thrive on plastic, transforming it into rich "microbial reefs" distinct from communities in surrounding water.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, they said plastic debris could pose a health risk for invertebrates, fish or possibly humans, as the "plastisphere" harbors a group of bacteria called Vibrio, some species of which can cause illnesses, such as cholera, when they come in contact with humans.

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