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Microplastic Consumed By Plankton May Interrupt Oceans’ Carbon-Capture Abilities, Says NUI Galway Study

30th April 2019
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A chain of salps beneath the surface of the Red Sea A chain of salps beneath the surface of the Red Sea Photo: Lars Plougmann/Wikimedia

Microplastic ingested by plankton may greatly impair our oceans’ natural carbon-capturing abilities, according to a new study from NUI Galway.

Marine scientists at the university’s Ryan Institute found that microscopic particles of plastic waste in the world’s oceans are interfering with the food chain that cycles CO2 from the surface to the floor, as The Irish Times reports.

The cycle involves the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by algae on the ocean surface via photosynthesis. This algae is a food source for zooplankton such as salps, whose faecal matter sinks to the ocean floor.

As much as half of all CO2 produced by humans over the last 200 years has been captured at the bottom of the world’s oceans in this manner, the scientists say.

However, the team have identified that when salps ingest algae along with microplastic particles, their excretions do not sink to the bottom as fast, and may be broken down closer to the surface to release more of their trapped CO2.

“It is very important to point out our study was carried out in a laboratory,” said Dr Tom Doyle of UCC, a partner in the research.

“We now need to go out into the field to further test our hypothesis by quantifying the abundance of microplastics found in salps and their faecal pellets in different areas of our oceans.”

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Science
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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