There’s a bug in my plastic soup!
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), also know as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has grown 100-fold in the last 40 year and is now roughly the size of Texas, according to a new report by a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The scientists warns that the NPSG is now a killer soup of microplastic – particles smaller than five millimetres – that threatens to alter the open ocean's natural environment.
The United Nations Environment Programme says that, on average, around 13,000 pieces of plastic litter are found in every square kilometre of sea, but the problem is worst in the North Pacific. Marine life and birds are vacuuming up the plastic particle mix, which is heavy with toxic chemicals.
The study said the NPSG is also providing an abundant new habitat for ocean insects called "sea-skaters" – relatives of pond water skaters – which were previously limited to relatively rare items like floating wood, pumice and sea shells.
If microplastic density continued to grow, insect numbers would increase as well, the scientists warned, "potentially at the expense of prey such as zooplankton or fish eggs".
This Scripps study follows another report by colleagues at the institution that showed 9 percent of the fish collected during the same Seaplex voyage in 2009 had plastic waste in their stomachs.
That investigation estimated the fish at intermediate ocean depths in the North Pacific Ocean could be ingesting plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes per year.
Toxicity is the issue most often raised in relation to this type of pollution, but the scientists say broader ecosystem effects also need to be studied.
The abundance of ocean debris will influence the success, or otherwise, of "rafting communities" - those species that are specifically adapted to life on or around objects floating in the water.
Larger creatures would include barnacles and crabs, and even fish that like to live under some kind of cover, but large-scale change would likely touch even the smallest organisms.