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Plastic in the ocean has created a new ecosystem

Scientists have discovered that plastic has created a new ecosystem in the ocean. It has become home to a range of organisms, from marine animals to the bacteria that “eat it,” writes The Guardian.

Linda Amaral-Zettler, a microbiologist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Marine Research, called the phenomenon the “plastisphere.” Plastic can be found almost all over the planet, but in some cases, its accumulations already represent an ecosystem, a special marine habitat.

Most of the used plastic goes to landfills, but almost a third of it ends up in the sea. Some of them sink, but many remain floating close to the surface, becoming habitats for hundreds of organisms. Unlike most organic materials, plastic is very strong and durable, allowing creatures to reproduce by attaching to it and spreading over a huge area.

The plastisphere is an ecosystem, a special marine habitat. The most famous example of this accumulation of waste is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of France. Amaral-Zettler tells us that in the plastisphere there are organisms that photosynthesize, there are predators and prey, symbionts and parasites, and thus the full range of living creature interactions inherent in other ecosystems.

Most of the plastic in the ocean is polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Every minute, a million of these products enter the water. In June, researcher Robin Wright of the Department of Pharmacology at Dalhousie University in Canada discovered two bacteria in the ocean water that can break down PET — that is, “eat plastic.”

The organisms are known as Thioclava sp. BHET1 and Bacillus sp. BHET2. The bacteria get inside plastic because the material attracts carbon, iron, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the water. These substances, in turn, attract microbes. The author of the study argues that these bacteria will be a key tool of mankind in the fight against plastic.

Earlier, scientists at Cambridge University in Britain proposed the use of recycled plastic as an alternative to natural raw materials for concrete. This will help reduce the damage from sand mining, which causes enormous damage to aquatic ecosystems.

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