MICROPLASTICS : THE SILENT KILLER

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Claire Stinger, Editor

A researcher from Hong Kong named Yang Liu presented a concept at the Microbiology Society Conference that could potentially greatly impact the way one kind pollution in the ocean is removed: microplastics . Microplastics are pieces of plastic in the ocean that are miniscule, yet have an enormous impact on marine life. National Geographic explained that many marine

animals consume these plastics, including marine life as small as plankton. The microplastic being consumed can have harmful chemicals on them as well.  While a “few tiny plastic particles” on the ocean floor may not seem so bad, it may be a lot worse than many people know. According to Harvard.edu, there is approximately 14 million tons of microplastic scattered across the ocean floor. 

What is on the floor of the ocean may not seem like it has anything to do with you, or impacts you at all. However, in an article by the Washington post, researchers presented the idea that each time you take a drink of water, or eat anything, you are likely unknowingly ingesting microplastic particles. National Geographic stated, Alarmingly, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics.” This is why further research is being done, as very little is known, yet what is known is far from comforting. There are still studies being conducted to determine the relationship between microplastics and health related complications.

The idea that Liu presented was a strategy that uses a substance called bacterial biofilms, which is created by microorganisms. According to TheGuardian.com, the biofilms would act as a sticky net and catch the microplastics as they enter the ocean. The plastic that is collected by the bacterial biofilms can then be recovered and recycled far easier than they are right now. The species of bacteria they used in their trial experiment is named Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which, according to sciencedirect.com, is a bacteria found commonly in underwater, and soil based ecosystems. Choosing a common bacteria made it more universal, as they will likely not have to go through the process of introducing a new bacteria to an environment. 

Earthday.org provided the statistic that 8 million tons of plastic are thrown in the ocean each year, and 250,000 tons of that is microplastics. National Geographic also stated that since the 1950’s the number of plastic produced has steadily increased. If we do not do something about microplastics and other plastics in the ocean, scientists and other researches have reason to believe that there will be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the ocean by the year 2050 ( Earthday.org ).