A Portrait Of The Bizarre Future Of Marine Life

This picture shows the hybridisation of plastic garbage with marine life - algae and tiny invertebrates have made a home on plastic that has been floating in the North Atlantic for decades. Now scientists say the plastic is disappearing.

You have probably heard about the North Atlantic garbage patch, a region where discarded plastics and other garbage swirl around on the surface of the ocean, imperilling the wildlife who mistake it for plants and eat it. Scientists have found hundreds of starved birds and fish that died with plastic in their bellies. But a new scientific study shows that the garbage gyre hasn't gotten any bigger, despite existing for over two decades. Where is all the extra garbage going?

Researcher Kara Lavender Law and colleagues have been studying the gyre for decades, collecting scraps of plastic between 1986 and 2008, by towing nets along the ocean's surface. They painstakingly counted particles of plastic by hand, trying to determine whether the amount of garbage had changed over time.

Their work is the subject of a study released today in Science. A release explains:

The amount of material, overall, did not increase substantially over the last two decades, the authors report. By combining their measurements with a computer model of ocean circulation, they show that the highest concentrations of plastic occurred in an area where wind-driven surface currents were converging. This result helps explain why the debris accumulates in this particular region, so far away from land. The authors propose a handful of possible explanations for why more discarded plastic is not appearing out in the open Atlantic Ocean. It may break up into pieces too small to be collected by the nets, or it might be sinking beneath the surface. Or, it might be consumed by marine organisms. More research will be necessary to determine the likelihood of each scenario.

In the picture above, it looks like it's being consumed or at least inhabited by marine organisms. Further evidence that if humans were wiped off the face of the planet, even our most offensive pollutants might eventually be overtaken by life again.

[via Science Express]

Republished from io9.

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