Ranking environmental degradation trends of plastic marine debris based on physical properties and molecular structure.
ABSTRACT: As plastic marine debris continues to accumulate in the oceans, many important questions surround this global dilemma. In particular, how many descriptors would be necessary to model the degradation behavior of ocean plastics or understand if degradation is possible? Here, we report a data-driven approach to elucidate degradation trends of plastic debris by linking abiotic and biotic degradation behavior in seawater with physical properties and molecular structures. The results reveal a hierarchy of predictors to quantify surface erosion as well as combinations of features, like glass transition temperature and hydrophobicity, to classify ocean plastics into fast, medium, and slow degradation categories. Furthermore, to account for weathering and environmental factors, two equations model the influence of seawater temperature and mechanical forces.
Project description:Marine plastic debris has become a significant concern in ocean ecosystems worldwide. Little is known, however, about its influence on microbial community structure and function. In 2008, we surveyed microbial communities and metabolic activities in seawater and on plastic on an oceanographic expedition through the "great Pacific garbage patch." The concentration of plastic particles in surface seawater within different size classes (2 to 5 mm and >5 mm) ranged from 0.35 to 3.7 particles m-3 across sampling stations. These densities and the particle size distribution were consistent with previous values reported in the North Pacific Ocean. Net community oxygen production (NCP = gross primary production - community respiration) on plastic debris was positive and so net autotrophic, whereas NCP in bulk seawater was close to zero. Scanning electron microscopy and metagenomic sequencing of plastic-attached communities revealed the dominance of a few metazoan taxa and a diverse assemblage of photoautotrophic and heterotrophic protists and bacteria. Bryozoa, Cyanobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes dominated all plastic particles, regardless of particle size. Bacteria inhabiting plastic were taxonomically distinct from the surrounding picoplankton and appeared well adapted to a surface-associated lifestyle. Genes with significantly higher abundances among plastic-attached bacteria included che genes, secretion system genes, and nifH genes, suggesting enrichment for chemotaxis, frequent cell-to-cell interactions, and nitrogen fixation. In aggregate, our findings suggest that plastic debris forms a habitat for complex microbial assemblages that have lifestyles, metabolic pathways, and biogeochemical activities that are distinct from those of free-living planktonic microbial communities. IMPORTANCE Marine plastic debris is a growing concern that has captured the general public's attention. While the negative impacts of plastic debris on oceanic macrobiota, including mammals and birds, are well documented, little is known about its influence on smaller marine residents, including microbes that have key roles in ocean biogeochemistry. Our work provides a new perspective on microbial communities inhabiting microplastics that includes its effect on microbial biogeochemical activities and a description of the cross-domain communities inhabiting plastic particles. This study is among the first molecular ecology, plastic debris biota surveys in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It has identified fundamental differences in the functional potential and taxonomic composition of plastic-associated microbes versus planktonic microbes found in the surrounding open-ocean habitat. Author Video: An author video summary of this article is available.
Project description:There is strong evidence that the seafloor constitutes a final sink for plastics from land sources. There is also evidence that part of the plastics lying on the shallow seafloor are washed up back to the shoreline. However, little is known on the natural trapping processes leading to such landwards return. Here we investigate microplastics and larger plastic debris within beached seagrass remains including balls (aegagropilae) made of natural aggregates of vegetal fibers intertwined by seawater motion. We found up to 1470 plastic items per kg of plant material, which were mainly composed of negatively buoyant polymer filaments and fibers. Our findings show that seagrass meadows promote plastic debris trapping and aggregation with natural lignocellulosic fibers, which are then ejected and escape the coastal ocean. Our results show how seagrasses, one of the key ecosystems on Earth in terms of provision of goods and services, also counteract marine plastic pollution. In view of our findings, the regression of seagrass meadows in some marine regions acquires a new dimension.
Project description:Marine debris, mostly consisting of plastic, is a global problem, negatively impacting wildlife, tourism and shipping. However, despite the durability of plastic, and the exponential increase in its production, monitoring data show limited evidence of concomitant increasing concentrations in marine habitats. There appears to be a considerable proportion of the manufactured plastic that is unaccounted for in surveys tracking the fate of environmental plastics. Even the discovery of widespread accumulation of microscopic fragments (microplastics) in oceanic gyres and shallow water sediments is unable to explain the missing fraction. Here, we show that deep-sea sediments are a likely sink for microplastics. Microplastic, in the form of fibres, was up to four orders of magnitude more abundant (per unit volume) in deep-sea sediments from the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean than in contaminated sea-surface waters. Our results show evidence for a large and hitherto unknown repository of microplastics. The dominance of microfibres points to a previously underreported and unsampled plastic fraction. Given the vastness of the deep sea and the prevalence of microplastics at all sites we investigated, the deep-sea floor appears to provide an answer to the question-where is all the plastic?
Project description:There is a rising concern regarding the accumulation of floating plastic debris in the open ocean. However, the magnitude and the fate of this pollution are still open questions. Using data from the Malaspina 2010 circumnavigation, regional surveys, and previously published reports, we show a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the open ocean, mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of each of the five subtropical gyres with comparable density. However, the global load of plastic on the open ocean surface was estimated to be on the order of tens of thousands of tons, far less than expected. Our observations of the size distribution of floating plastic debris point at important size-selective sinks removing millimeter-sized fragments of floating plastic on a large scale. This sink may involve a combination of fast nano-fragmentation of the microplastic into particles of microns or smaller, their transference to the ocean interior by food webs and ballasting processes, and processes yet to be discovered. Resolving the fate of the missing plastic debris is of fundamental importance to determine the nature and significance of the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean.
Project description:Plastic debris pervades in our oceans and freshwater systems and the potential ecosystem-level impacts of this anthropogenic litter require urgent evaluation. Microbes readily colonize aquatic plastic debris and members of these biofilm communities are speculated to include pathogenic, toxic, invasive or plastic degrading-species. The influence of plastic-colonizing microorganisms on the fate of plastic debris is largely unknown, as is the role of plastic in selecting for unique microbial communities. This work aimed to characterize microbial biofilm communities colonizing single-use poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) drinking bottles, determine their plastic-specificity in contrast with seawater and glass-colonizing communities, and identify seasonal and geographical influences on the communities. A substrate recruitment experiment was established in which PET bottles were deployed for 5-6 weeks at three stations in the North Sea in three different seasons. The structure and composition of the PET-colonizing bacterial/archaeal and eukaryotic communities varied with season and station. Abundant PET-colonizing taxa belonged to the phylum Bacteroidetes (e.g. Flavobacteriaceae, Cryomorphaceae, Saprospiraceae-all known to degrade complex carbon substrates) and diatoms (e.g. Coscinodiscophytina, Bacillariophytina). The PET-colonizing microbial communities differed significantly from free-living communities, but from particle-associated (>3 ?m) communities or those inhabiting glass substrates. These data suggest that microbial community assembly on plastics is driven by conventional marine biofilm processes, with the plastic surface serving as raft for attachment, rather than selecting for recruitment of plastic-specific microbial colonizers. A small proportion of taxa, notably, members of the Cryomorphaceae and Alcanivoraceae, were significantly discriminant of PET but not glass surfaces, conjuring the possibility that these groups may directly interact with the PET substrate. Future research is required to investigate microscale functional interactions at the plastic surface.
Project description:Plastic waste in the environment is a significant threat due to its resistance to biological processes. Here we report the ability of fungal strains found on floating plastic debris to degrade plastics. In particular, we wanted to know which fungi grow on plastic debris floating in the shoreline, whether these fungi have the ability to degrade plastics, whether the plastic-degrading fungi can degrade other complex C-polymers such as lignin, and whether lignin-degraders vice versa can also break down plastics. Overall, more than a hundred fungal strains were isolated from plastic debris of the shoreline of Lake Zurich, Switzerland, and grouped morphologically. Representative strains of these groups were then selected and genetically identified, altogether twelve different fungal species and one species of Oomycota. The list of fungi included commonly occurring saprotrophic fungi but also some plant pathogens. These fungal strains were then used to test the ability to degrade polyethylene and polyurethane. The tests showed that none of the strains were able to degrade polyethylene. However, four strains were able to degrade polyurethane, the three litter-saprotrophic fungi Cladosporium cladosporioides, Xepiculopsis graminea, and Penicillium griseofulvum and the plant pathogen Leptosphaeria sp. A series of additional fungi with an origin other than from plastic debris were tested as well. Here, only the two litter-saprotrophic fungi Agaricus bisporus and Marasmius oreades showed the capability to degrade polyurethane. In contrast, wood-saprotrophic fungi and ectomycorrhizal fungi were unable to degrade polyurethane. Overall, it seems that in majority only a few litter-saprotrophic fungi, which possess a wide variety of enzymes, have the ability to degrade polyurethane. None of the fungi tested was able to degrade polyethylene.
Project description:Concern over plastic pollution of the marine environment is severe. The mass-imbalance between the plastic litter supplied to and observed in the ocean currently suggests a missing sink. However, here we show that the ocean interior conceals high loads of small-sized plastic debris which can balance and even exceed the estimated plastic inputs into the ocean since 1950. The combined mass of just the three most-littered plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene) of 32-651?µm size-class suspended in the top 200?m of the Atlantic Ocean is 11.6-21.1 Million Tonnes. Considering that plastics of other sizes and polymer types will be found in the deeper ocean and in the sediments, our results indicate that both inputs and stocks of ocean plastics are much higher than determined previously. It is thus critical to assess these terms across all size categories and polymer groups to determine the fate and danger of plastic contamination.
Project description:A new algorithm has been developed to quantify floating macro-debris transport on river surfaces that consists of three fundamental techniques: (1) generating a difference image of the colour difference between the debris and surrounding water in the CIELuv colour space, (2) detecting the debris pixels from the difference image, and (3) calculating the debris area flux via the template matching method. Debris pixels were accurately detected from the images taken of the laboratory channel and river water surfaces and were consistent with those detected by visual observation. The area fluxes were statistically significantly correlated with the mass fluxes measured through debris collection. The mass fluxes calculated by multiplying the area fluxes with the debris mass per unit area (M/A) were significantly related to the flood rising stage flow rates and agreed with the mass fluxes measured through debris collection. In our algorithm, plastic mass fluxes can be estimated via calibration using the mass percentage of plastics to the total debris in target rivers. Quantifying riverine macro-plastic transport is essential to formulating countermeasures, mitigating adverse plastic pollution impacts and understanding global-scale riverine macro-plastic transport.
Project description:Predicted global figures for plastic debris accumulation in the ocean surface layer range on the order of hundreds of thousands of metric tons, representing only a few percent of estimated annual emissions into the marine environment. The current accepted explanation for this difference is that positively buoyant macroplastic objects do not persist on the ocean surface. Subject to degradation into microplastics, the major part of the mass is predicted to have settled below the surface. However, we argue that such a simple emission-degradation model cannot explain the occurrence of decades-old objects collected by oceanic expeditions. We show that debris circulation dynamics in coastal environments may be a better explanation for this difference. The results presented here suggest that there is a significant time interval, on the order of several years to decades, between terrestrial emissions and representative accumulation in offshore waters. Importantly, our results also indicate that the current generation of secondary microplastics in the global ocean is mostly a result of the degradation of objects produced in the 1990s and earlier. Finally, we propose a series of future emission scenarios until 2050, discussing the necessity to rapidly reduce emissions and actively remove waste accumulated in the environment to mitigate further microplastic contamination in the global ocean.
Project description:Although marine plastic pollution has been the focus of several studies, there are still many gaps in our understanding of the concentrations, characteristics and impacts of plastics in the oceans. This study aimed to quantify and characterize plastic debris in oceanic surface waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. Sampling was done through surface trawls, and mean debris concentration was estimated at 1,794 items.km-2 with an average weight of 27.8?g.km-2. No statistical difference was found between the amount of mesoplastics (46%) and microplastics (54%). We found hard and flexible fragments, spheres and lines, in nine colors, composed mostly of polyurethane, polyamide, and polyethylene. An oceanographic dispersal model showed that, for at least seven years, sampled plastics likely did not originate from latitudes lower than 58°S. Analysis of epiplastic community diversity revealed bacteria, microalgae, and invertebrate groups adhered to debris. Paint fragments were present at all sampling stations and were approximately 30 times more abundant than plastics. Although paint particles were not included in plastic concentration estimates, we highlight that they could have similar impacts as marine plastics. We call for urgent action to avoid and mitigate plastic and paint fragment inputs to the Southern Ocean.