Plastic-Eating Barnacles Discovered
One Fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Shoe fish
Trash on the bottom of the ocean used to be out of sight and out of mind, but a project by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) brought images of deep sea dumps to the surface. The MBARI team observed more than 1,500 pieces of trash on the seafloor from Vancouver Island to the Gulf of California, and as far west as the Hawaiian Islands.
Oceanic life sometimes made the best of this bad situation by colonizing the garbage. For example, this young rockfish is a shoe-in for survival and adaptation at 472 meters (1,548 feet) deep in San Gabriel Canyon, off Southern California.
Seafloor Social Network
Other young rockfish swim around discarded fishing equipment on the floor of Monterey Canyon off the coast of California. Luckily for them, the net isn't working. While some marine life may be able to adapt to human garbage, oceanic trash can trap animals, release toxins, smother plants and have other negative effects.
Boxing Day for Crabs
An octopus coils and crabs crawl over a metal box 2,432 meters (7979 feet) deep in Monterey Canyon.
This shipping container was discovered by MBARI four months after it fell off the merchant vessel Med Taipei during a storm in February of 2004. The container was just one of the estimated 10,000 shipping containers lost overboard every year.
Drums in the Deep
A wanna-be Sebastian the Crab, from Disney's the Little Mermaid, may be planning to turn this drum into a percussion instrument for a calypso band under the sea. The 55-gallon drum lies 2,892 meters (9,488 feet) deep in outer Monterey Canyon.
Even fragile garbage like this old cardboard can become part of the ocean floor ecosystem if it isn't handled with care. However, the crabs may be grouchy that cardboard covers their habitat 3,950 meters deep, offshore of Point Conception, Santa Barbara County, California.
A sea anemone (top) and sea cucumber (right) gained traction on the surface of this tire submerged 868 meters (2,850 feet) beneath the waves in Monterey Canyon.
The ubiquitous Coca Cola logo can be found even 1,200 meters deep in Monterey Canyon.
Classic Fish Pun
This old shoe is in pretty bad shape, but it seems to still have its sole...or is that a flounder (upper left)?
It's in the Water
The slogan of Olympia beer, “It's the water,” can barely be read on this old can. In this case, lots and lots of water.
Someone didn't turn in this soda bottle for a deposit. Instead, deep in the sea, brittle stars creep around the bottle on Davidson Seamount, 60 miles offshore of California and 1,727 meters (5,666 feet) below the ocean surface. "The most frustrating thing for me is that most of the material we saw—glass, metal, paper, plastic—could be recycled," said Kyra Schlining, lead author of the MBARI study published in Deep-Sea Research, in a press release.
The Long Black Veil
A gorgonian coral wears a veil of black plastic 2,115 meters (almost 7,000 feet) deep in Astoria Canyon, off the coast of Oregon. The veil could become a death shroud if the plastic were to completely cover the coral and block coral polyps from feeding.
Dr. Pepper's slogan could be modified to, “Would you like to be a polluter too?” for this can submerged 1,529 meters deep on Axial Seamount, off the Pacific Northwest's coast. The nearby brittle stars probably can't tell the difference between Dr. Pepper detritus and Mr. Pibb pollution.
The oceans are full of plastic. Now, research finds that even barnacles are feeling the consequences.
A third of barnacles caught in the North Pacific gyre, a region of the ocean notoriously littered with scraps of plastic, have microfragments of the plastic material in their digestive systems at a given time, a new study finds. Researchers aren't sure whether ingesting the non-food harms the barnacles, but it could crowd out real nutrition.
Plastic debris is a major problem in the oceans, particularly when sea life becomes entangled in the garbage or ingests it. At least 267 marine species have been documented eating plastic, including turtles, fish and birds, researchers report today (Oct. 22) in the open-access journal PeerJ.
The North Pacific gyre is so heavily laden with plastic that it's earned the nickname, "The North Pacific Garbage Patch." Here, Miriam Goldstein of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and Deborah Goodwin of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., tested an unknown question: Are marine invertebrates, such as barnacles and other animals without backbones, also consuming plastic garbage?
Laboratory studies suggested filter feeders like barnacles do pick up plastic pellets, but only three examples of plastic-eating invertebrates were known in the wild. (Sandhopper amphipods, or sand fleas, the Norway lobster and flying squid, for those keeping score.)
The researchers collected barnacles of two species, Lepas anatifera and Lepas pacifica, on two separate trips to the gyre. They then conducted barnacle autopsies, checking the digestive systems of the animals for microplastics, or plastic pieces worn by wind and waves to less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) in diameter.
Of the 385 barnacles collected, 129 had ingested plastic, the researchers found. Most of those individuals had a pellet or two in their gut, but 57 had more than three pieces, with one containing a whopping 30 individual plastic particles.
Researchers aren't sure whether these particles are affecting the barnacle's health; there were no signs of digestive backup in this group, at least. The long-term effects are unknown, they wrote.
Unfortunately for the oceans, this tendency for barnacles to eat plastic doesn't help remove the litter permanently.
"The barnacles just poop out the plastic & it floats away again," Goldstein wrote on Twitter.
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