The ill-famed Great Pacific Garbage Patch—some thousand kilometres off the coast of Hawaii—is the long-standing symbol of the catastrophe that is plastic pollution. With a size twice that of Texas and over 7 million tons in weight, it’s ‘the token’ for how our addiction of plastic affects the environment. In this plastic gyre, there are 6 times more plastic than plankton—the food chain backbone of the oceans.
Well, recent studies though have revealed a startling fact, or rather a phenomenon that’s going on in this plastic waste world. This is almost startling that not only highlights the resiliency of live and its umpteen characteristics that continue to amaze us forever, but also of the promise it holds.
To get a better notion about this Great Pacific Garbage Patch, see this video
The ‘Plastisphere’! Some months prior, we had drafted an article that talked of the findings of a species of plastic eating bacteria in a lab of East Asia. Now, a startling discovery has revealed that the Great Pacific Garbage patch hoists a multitude of bacteria that seemingly thrives on this plastic waste and converts the plastic particles into energy. Amazing isn’t it?
This newly found plastic-life ecosystem as been dubbed as ‘plastisphere’ by Maria-Luiza Pedrotti of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). She is the chief scientist of the group that is actively studying this ecosystem in an effort to learn more on the types of microbes that have annexed this garbage patch and how exactly the ecosystem functions, the biological flow. Well, there might be some revolutionary surprises around the corner, once the study is completed!
All is not good!
However, till now, the studies have also revealed something else. Maria Pedrotti’s previous studies on plastic-eating bacteria have revealed some significant facts. She mentions that in the cookery of the whole plastic waste that is in the Great Pacific garbage patch, lies a significant population of microbes belonging to the genus ‘Vibrio’ that comprises of the infamous cholera pathogens.
Well, the matter of fact is, another research group in Germany have found out that microbes thriving on microplastics have a very high rate of gene exchange that could potentially spread more antibiotic resistance within these bacterial colonies. Ecologists and other research groups fear that this phenomenon could be reflected within the microbes present in the Great Pacific Garbage patch as well, thus causing mayhem! We could unfortunately catalyse a new microbial epidemic, resistant to all our known antibiotics, due to our own global plastic usage. This is an unexpected red alert! Nature sure has its own eerie ways to take revenge.
One way to clear up this whole mess is to clear the whole plastisphere itself. But, it is easier said than done. The biggest challenge lies in the fact that there are more microplastics in the Pacific Garbage Patch than what we see in the naked eye. Needless to say, clearing up everything using conventional nets would simply fail to eradicate these microplastics. Since, the microbes actually feed on these microplastics, they would continue to thrive. Moreover, researchers fear that since it has become a huge thriving ecosystem, totally eliminating the same could cause a devastating ripple effect on the entire marine food chain.
There Lies a Silver Lining! But, all is not doom. Reverting back to where we initiated this article, this bacterial colony is more of a promise than a catastrophic offshoot of our plastic addiction. The research group has an opinion on this matter. Since the bacterial colonies actually convert plastic particles into energy, these microbes could be harnessed in vast numbers to ‘organically vanish’ the whole garbage patch. Maybe, decades hence, people would only see a silhouette of this massive plastic gyre, most of it being degraded by microbes. That would be no doubt a triumph for mankind and the planet! Pedrotti’s studies could reflect more on this grand possibility!
It’s almost awe-inspiring that how nature can do things completely out of our thinking box! Even a couple of years or a one-two decade ago, any system converting plastic waste into energy was simply unthinkable. Though some artificial initiatives have been taken in this sector, to see life emerging from plastic intake is shocking! Still, consider what life and the planet has gone through since Earth incepted billions of years ago. Life always finds a way among the mess. That’s why it’s the most sophisticated system in our knowledge!
Yes, it’s a silver lining. But, the negative effects discussed before also come as a collective reality check. Plastic, nevertheless, is choking everything in our planet and we have only ourselves to blame. It’s high time that we become more and more aware of plastic’s ill-effects and the accelerated catastrophe it’s causing. For every plastic bottle or an item you use, is one death noose you are adopting for the planet and for yourself.
You can go through the real published article here— https://www.quantamagazine.org/on-waste-plastics-at-sea-maria-luiza-pedrotti-finds-unique-microbial-multitudes-20180913/
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