The Plastisphere May Be A New Environment Appearing In The Oceans
The Plastisphere is a theoretic environment that exists today on Earth, mainly in the oceans, where microorganisms have evolved in such a way so as to feed on the new element found in abundance – plastic. There is an insane amount of plastic in the ocean, and it’s getting there in larger and larger amounts every day. But something doesn’t add up, however, and this is where the idea of a plastisphere comes in.
According to Ricard Sole from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, the amount of plastic production is growing exponentially and by all accounts, much of it should be ending up in the world’s oceans. But based on surveys done in areas known to accumulate plastic, like the North Atlantic Oceanic Gyre, there isn’t nearly as much plastic as expected.
In fact, the actual amount is about ten times smaller than it should actually be. And what’s more, that amount of plastic doesn’t seem to be increasing either, even though it should. The reasons for this cannot be explained by any conventional means, and not on this scale, to say the least.
One theory out there is that the plastic biodegrades faster than expected. And this might not necessarily be a good thing either. It could be that large pieces of plastic are being shredded into minute pieces and we do not yet understand what effects that would have on the marine life. Another theory suggests that the plastic is being eaten by larger marine life like whales, dolphins, or sea turtles and which end up dying of hunger because of it.
And then there’s the theory of the Plastisphere. Some scientists believe it to be possible that some microorganisms have already evolved to feed on plastic. The idea isn’t so farfetched as it might sound. The only ting that’s strange is the fact that we can’t see evolution acting that fast and on that of a large scale – and more importantly, though, happening in the present. But it is happening nonetheless.
For instance, there are cases of superaccelerated evolution, where some plants in urban environments had to change their reproduction behaviour by going from dispersing its seeds with the help of wind and instead, changing to using seeds that drop directly to the ground. This is because of concrete and asphalt that make up much of their own environment. There are more chances for another plant to grow close to the mother plant, rather than beeing blown away somewhere else.
Anyway, when it comes to microorganisms evolving to eat plastic, there isn’t currently any straightforward evidence of that. Though analysis has shown that microorganisms growing in plastic patches are noticeably different than those living outside of it, they aren’t exactly plastic eaters. That, of course, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist – just that they weren’t found yet.
Similarly, there’s another theory that says that plastic is simply sinking to the bottom of the ocean because of these microorganisms piling on to it and making it heavier.
Whatever the case may be, however, none of them excuses the fact that there’s plastic in the oceans, or that it will not affect the current environment, or even that it will eventually clean itself.
“To really tackle the plastic problem, we need to stop it getting into the oceans in the first place,” Matthew Cole of Exeter University in the UK, says.