Oceanic microbes may be developing the ability to break down plastics, says a study by biologists at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Jim Drury has more.
There's far less plastic in the oceans than previously thought, say these Barcelona researchers - but this might not be as good news as it sounds They think ocean microbes are developing the ability to break down plastics. SOUNDBITE (English) SYSTEMS COMPLEX LABORATORY RESEARCHER OF POMPEU FABRA UNIVERSITY AND EVOLVED BIOLOGY INSTITUTE (UPF-CSIC), NURIA CONDE, SAYING: "What is clear is that all microbes has the capacity to evolve and the species that is able to take the plastic as a food resource has a great advantage on the other ones and that's why they can increase in number." The microbes' newly-found ability might not be entirely beneficial. SOUNDBITE (English) SYSTEMS COMPLEX LABORATORY RESEARCHER OF POMPEU FABRA UNIVERSITY AND EVOLVED BIOLOGY INSTITUTE (UPF-CSIC), NURIA CONDE, SAYING: "There are parts that are good and parts that are not so good because since these microbes can destroy the plastics we created micro micro plastics, tinier that you need a microscope to look at them and that means that all the ecosystem, all the organisms from all the food chain can eat plastics, from the ones that are invisible microorganisms to whales, everybody can eat plastic." Another theory is that floating plastic might simply be sinking to the seafloor or breaking into microscopic pieces that slip through research vessels' nets. Previous studies suggest that additives within plastics could be released into the food chain if the plastic part biodegrades. A 2006 Greenpeace report suggested that at least 260 species suffer from entanglement or ingestion of plastic marine debris. These include seabirds, turtles, whales and fish.