The range of damage of plastic is nearly incalculable. We see plastic everywhere we look and everywhere we can’t see. Microplastics are found in the smallest ocean animals’ bodies, and as the bigger fish feed on plankton, the plastics present in living tissue are magnified.
How does plastic affect phytoplankton?
This is one of the most pressing questions in marine biology because phytoplankton is considered a cornerstone species. They are the primary diet of small fish that are consumed by larger and larger fish species. Cornerstone species have a big impact when gone or if they are endangered. The presence or absence of important species in marine environments can spell the survival or death of many fish species.
While nature will certainly adjust to the changing times, we see unprecedented changes in marine ecology that do not match the pace of change in eras before ours. Truly, the presence of plastic is changing our world, and if we don’t do anything about it, perhaps we are facing an end that is not to be desired at all.
Is Phytoplankton Eating Plastic?
All manner of small and microscopic marine animals is now consuming plastic, including phytoplankton. Of particular interest to scientists now is the role of phytoplankton and filter-feeding animals known as giant larvaceans (which are also classified as plankton) in the distribution of microplastics in the ocean.
Previously, many people thought that plastic’s main impact was it dealt away with larger marine animals, causing them to die because of obstructions. Today, we see a much more insidious effect of plastic on the environment.
Scientists are now looking at the final destination of oceanic plastic waste. And sadly, it’s nowhere near (literally) where we thought they’d stay. Plastic may not be biodegradable, but plastic breaks down physically into the size of particles that are no longer visible.
Microscopic plastic or microplastics now abound in land and oceans. These pieces of plastic are so small that plankton can eat them. But where do they go after plankton eat them? According to research, planktons and other tunicates are serving as distribution centers for microplastics.
These animals are so efficient in filter-feeding that they can clear the equivalent of Olympic-sized pools in mere hours. This poses a problem to animals that eat plankton, as the smallest marine life members are eating plastic. As we have mentioned before, if plankton is eating plastic, then so are we.
The feces of larger plankton species descend lower and lower into the ocean until they hit the ocean floor. Plastic is essentially making its way down to the bottom of the sea with little effort, thanks to planktons that feed on Microplastics in the water. The planktons are not killed outright by the presence of microplastics, but the impact of plastic on the water can kill plankton.
How Does Plastic Affect Phytoplankton?
Does plastic kill phytoplankton?
Plastic does have a severe effect on the ocean that will eventually kill plankton and other marine animals. The problems begin with the fact that these small animals are consuming plastic in the first place.
Remember the first trait of plastics? They float on water because of their density. Well, this property doesn’t go away even when the plastic is broken down into microscopic particles.
Planktons consume microscopic particles of different sizes, and these plastics are eventually packaged together as waste. Plankton waste is dense pellets, and normally, these pellets sink to the bottom of the ocean without zero problems. This picture is slowly being changed by the presence of plastic in the plankton diet.
The feces or pellets don’t sink to the bottom of the ocean quickly, and they stay on the surface longer and longer.
You might be wondering – what does this event have to do with the plankton or other marine animals? A lot. The ocean is one of the biggest natural processors of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is either released into the air or sunk to the ocean floor, where it is stored. With more carbon dioxide being trapped in the fecal waste of planktons and another tunicate, the ocean surface’s oxygen level is being rapidly reduced. The continuous reduction of oxygen will eventually suffocate small marine animals, including planktons.
So while planktons may not die immediately from consuming microplastics, they will die from suffocating from a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water. This is indeed a very sad event for ocean life because man doesn’t know how to dispose of plastic properly. Ocean life is powerless against the onslaught of plastic waste, truly.
Is Phytoplankton Going Extinct?
Are phytoplankton endangered?
According to scientists, planktons may well be heading for extinction because of the oceanic processes disturbed by plastic daily.
Since plastic impedes the normal storage of carbon dioxide at the bottom of the ocean floor, levels of usable dissolved oxygen at the surface of the oceans and seas are rapidly declining, making it harder for planktons to survive and feed as they should.
Global warming is also working hard on the planktons in our seas.
One species has been observed already as heading toward extinction because of changing ocean temperatures. Since humans are only reliant on how the ocean responds to changes, we don’t know how fishing industries will fare once plankton goes extinct.
How does pollution affect phytoplankton?
Fish feed on plankton, and disrupting the food source of surface, and marine food webs can spell the end of fishing. There will be no fish to catch if the fish we are after are starving in the ocean. And plastic is directly contributing to plankton and other tunicates’ demise because of how plastic is changing the chemistry of the seas and oceans.
What Is So Bad About Plastic in The Ocean?
Plastic is highly disruptive, and there is no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes in terms of the damage plastic is causing. Scientists have observed microplastics in the smallest plankton. Because of this, we can only assume that microplastics are now everywhere – most especially in the living tissue of fish, mammals, and humans.