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East Falmouth, MA, United States

Goldstein M.C.,University of California at San Diego | Goodwin D.S.,Sea Education Association
PeerJ | Year: 2013

Substantial quantities of small plastic particles, termed "microplastic," have been found in many areas of the world ocean, and have accumulated in particularly high densities on the surface of the subtropical gyres. While plastic debris has been documented on the surface of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) since the early 1970s, the ecological implications remain poorly understood. Organisms associated with floating objects, termed the "rafting assemblage," are an important component of the NPSG ecosystem. These objects are often dominated by abundant and fast-growing gooseneck barnacles (Lepas spp.), which predate on plankton and larval fishes at the sea surface. To assess the potential effects of microplastic on the rafting community, we examined the gastrointestinal tracts of 385 barnacles collected from the NPSG for evidence of plastic ingestion. We found that 33.5% of the barnacles had plastic particles present in their gastrointestinal tract, ranging from one plastic particle to a maximum of 30 particles. Particle ingestion was positively correlated to capitulum length, and no blockage of the stomach or intestines was observed. The majority of ingested plastic was polyethylene, with polypropylene and polystyrene also present. Our results suggest that barnacle ingestion of microplastic is relatively common, with unknown trophic impacts on the rafting community and the NPSG ecosystem. © 2013 Goldstein and Goodwin.

Van Franeker J.A.,IMARES | Law K.L.,Sea Education Association
Environmental Pollution | Year: 2015

Fulmars are effective biological indicators of the abundance of floating plastic marine debris. Long-term data reveal high plastic abundance in the southern North Sea, gradually decreasing to the north at increasing distance from population centres, with lowest levels in high-arctic waters. Since the 1980s, pre-production plastic pellets in North Sea fulmars have decreased by ∼75%, while user plastics varied without a strong overall change. Similar trends were found in net-collected floating plastic debris in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, with a ∼75% decrease in plastic pellets and no obvious trend in user plastic. The decreases in pellets suggest that changes in litter input are rapidly visible in the environment not only close to presumed sources, but also far from land. Floating plastic debris is rapidly "lost" from the ocean surface to other as-yet undetermined sinks in the marine environment. © 2015 The Authors. All rights reserved.

Jambeck J.R.,University of Georgia | Geyer R.,University of California at Santa Barbara | Wilcox C.,Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization | Siegler T.R.,DSM Environmental Services | And 4 more authors.
Science | Year: 2015

Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.

Zettler E.R.,Sea Education Association | Mincer T.J.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution | Amaral-Zettler L.A.,Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution
Environmental Science and Technology | Year: 2013

Plastics are the most abundant form of marine debris, with global production rising and documented impacts in some marine environments, but the influence of plastic on open ocean ecosystems is poorly understood, particularly for microbial communities. Plastic marine debris (PMD) collected at multiple locations in the North Atlantic was analyzed with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and next-generation sequencing to characterize the attached microbial communities. We unveiled a diverse microbial community of heterotrophs, autotrophs, predators, and symbionts, a community we refer to as the "Plastisphere". Pits visualized in the PMD surface conformed to bacterial shapes suggesting active hydrolysis of the hydrocarbon polymer. Small-subunit rRNA gene surveys identified several hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria, supporting the possibility that microbes play a role in degrading PMD. Some Plastisphere members may be opportunistic pathogens (the authors, unpublished data) such as specific members of the genus Vibrio that dominated one of our plastic samples. Plastisphere communities are distinct from surrounding surface water, implying that plastic serves as a novel ecological habitat in the open ocean. Plastic has a longer half-life than most natural floating marine substrates, and a hydrophobic surface that promotes microbial colonization and biofilm formation, differing from autochthonous substrates in the upper layers of the ocean. © 2013 American Chemical Society.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL OCEANOGRAPHY | Award Amount: 300.31K | Year: 2012

Plastic marine debris is a recent introduction to marine ecosystems resulting from the widespread use of polymers in consumer goods after World War II. The current global annual production of plastic is 245 million tonnes or 35 kg of plastic for each of the 7 billion humans on the planet, rivaling the combined biomass of all humans. Drifter buoys and physical oceanographic models demonstrate that surface particles passively migrate from the coastline to the central gyres in less than 60 days, illustrating how quickly human-generated debris can impact the pristine gyre interiors, more than 1000 km from land. Plastic debris has been implicated as a vector for transportation of harmful algal species and persistent organic pollutants, and provides a substrate for microbes that moves between environments and lasts much longer than most natural floating substrates. Despite increases in plastic production no significant trend in plastic accumulation has been observed since 1985. Physical shearing and photodegradation are known mechanisms of plastic degradation, but microbial degradation has also been implicated. Unpublished data employing pyrotag amplicon sequencing targeting bacterial and eukaryotic small subunit ribosomal RNA gene sequences, together with Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) data are consistent with the notion that plastic debris harbors a unique association of microbes including members capable of degrading plastic. The term Plastisphere describes this unique microbial community attached to and surrounding marine plastic debris and distinct from microbes in the surrounding seawater and on natural substrates such as macroalgae.

This project will: (1) characterize diversity through amplicon sequencing and comparative -omics combined with SEM and confocal microscopy to investigate the microbial composition of the Plastisphere; (2) describe function of the Plastisphere taking a cultivation-independent environmental DNA gene expression approach, as well as a cultivation-based approach to interrogate environmental clones and microbial isolates for the ability to degrade hydrocarbons; and (3) determine key biological factors that control the fate of plastic debris in the upper water column.

Intellectual Merit. Plastic is now the most abundant form of marine debris. Gaining an understanding of how plastic is affecting the very foundation of the food web in delicate open ocean environments is a first order question that will be addressed in this proposal and provides a base for an emerging research topic that has been identified as a high-priority research area. Understanding how microbes interact with plastic debris that accumulates in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (two of the largest biomes on Earth) will provide a foundation for follow-up research questions such as: Do microbial biofilms provide sustenance for filter feeding zooplankton?; how is the abundance of plastic debris affecting the health of these delicate biomes?; and can a truly biodegradable plastic be formulated that will have minimal impact on the oligotrophic environment? With a growing human population and second and third world economic growth, it is inevitable that more plastic debris will find its way into the ocean and collect in convergence zones such as the gyres.

Broader Impacts. The field component of this project is built around independent research projects by undergraduate students participating in Sea Education Association?s SEA Semester research cruises in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In addition to mentoring SEA Semester students who will be collecting samples and helping with this project throughout the year, the project will engage faculty and students from the Caribbean region who are studying at St. Georges University in Grenada. Underrepresented minorities in the US will be mentored through the Partnership Education Program (PEP) program, the WHOI minority fellowship program, and the MBL REU Site program in Biological Discovery in Woods Hole. Outreach to the general public and K-12 teachers and students will be delivered through a dedicated website for the Plastics at SEA expedition in 2010 by adding a section that specifically addresses microbial ecology and the role of plastic marine debris in open ocean marine ecosystems. All members of the research team will contribute to a newly developed undergraduate curriculum in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation via lectures and participation aboard ship.

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