PLANKTON ARE EATING PLASTIC AND IT’S BAD NEWS FOR THE OCEAN
An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, making ocean plastic pollution one of the greatest waste problems of our generation. It is well known that plastic pollution is a real threat to the Earth’s ecosystems, but have you ever imagined what exactly would happen if it threatened the foundation of our oceans’ food chains?
If the ocean’s entire ecosystem was thrown out of balance because the primary source of nutrition, both for tiny fish, as well as giant whales, went extinct? Turns out, the above scenario could already be happening today. Hidden just beneath the oceans’ surface is a world where tiny ocean creatures known as plankton, which serve as an important source of food for many marine animals, navigate through a wasteland of plastic debris. New findings show that plankton not only ingest plastic waste and dictate its final destination, but are also finding themselves under increasing pressure to survive…
WHAT IS PLANKTON AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Before jumping into how plastic pollution is harming plankton, let’s have a look at what exactly plankton is and why it’s so important for marine ecosystems. Plankton are tiny organisms that travel along ocean currents and freshwater bodies, unable to swim against water currents. The term “plankton” comes from the Greek word “planktos”, which means “wanderer” or “drifter” – a pretty accurate description of what plankton actually are. There are two main categories of plankton: zooplankton and phytoplankton. While phytoplankton are photosynthetic organisms, including algae and bacteria, zooplankton are the animal form of plankton. Phytoplankton tend to live near the surface of the water, as they depend on the sun for their food. Zooplankton, on the other hand, can be found in the darker, deeper parts of the ocean and only travel to the surface during the night to feed.
Easily affected by even the smallest of changes in the environment, plankton are important indicators of water health and serve as early warning signs for environmental problems. As a basic food source for a variety of marine species - from sea stars and tiny fish to squids or giant whales - plankton play an essential role in the stability of the marine ecosystem: without them, many marine animals would go extinct, which is why it’s so imperative to preserve these special creatures.
SO, HOW ARE PLASTICS HARMING PLANKTON?
It’s not exactly breaking news that our oceans are being used as a dumping ground for plastics, but every day new discoveries are being made around how this is affecting marine life. Now, scientists have observed that even organisms as small as zooplankton are snacking on toxic plastic debris. When eating plastics, zooplankton are exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals, stemming both directly from the plastic composition itself (like BPA), or from toxins that attached to the plastic while it was floating in the ocean (like DDT). This discovery is extremely bad news, as plankton are eaten by a number of marine species, which means that animals higher up the food chain will also be contaminated with plastics and the toxins contained in it. Just imagine: A humpback whale eats 1.5% of its body weight in zooplankton every day, equating to about 300,000 microplastic particles per day! What’s even more worrisome: Marine animals feeding on zooplankton could also lead to humans being exposed to plastics as a result of eating fish and seafood. Baby salmon in British Colombia’s rivers, for example, are likely to consume between 2 – 7 particles per day, just from eating zooplankton.
Unfortunately, plankton feeding on plastic debris not only leads to plastics and their toxins traveling up the food chain, but also to it traveling from the ocean surface down to the seafloor. How? After ingesting plastic, the excrement of planktonic animals known as giant larvaceans sinks to the seafloor, descending nearly 1,000 feet per day. This way plastic waste is quickly transported from the upper regions of the oceans to the deep sea – the biggest habitat on the planet – where many bottom dwellers feed on the discarded larvacean houses and stools. Surely there are more organisms that contribute to the distribution of plastics within the marine environment, but as can be seen from the above example, plastics are bad news for ALL ocean life.
LITTLE CHANGES CAN HAVE BIG RESULTS
While plastic is an amazing material, it is becoming more and more apparent that single-use plastic is putting plankton and all ocean life in a pretty rough spot. Luckily, little changes can lead to big results! If you are looking to live a lifestyle that’s more friendly to all marine life, start by ditching single-use plastics and look for brands that package their products in recycled plastic or – even better – in ViTA’s world-first 100% OceanBound recycled plastic bottles! Awarded the 2018 Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s (SPC) Innovator of the Year Award for Breakthrough Process, ViTA’s bottles are currently the world’s only bottles to be made entirely from OceanBound plastic, sourced from high-risk coastal areas where there is no formal collection system and plastic waste is most likely to pollute the ocean. So, what does this mean exactly? Every time you use a bottle of ViTA you're preventing a bottle the same size from floating in the ocean, while also treating your hair with the most advanced, toxin-free formulas! Your hair and the oceans will thank you!