Oceanfront property doesn’t come cheap. Except, perhaps, for some seafaring microbes. Steady streams of tiny plastic pieces making their way into the ocean give microbial squatters a
place to take up residence. Each plastic home comes equipped
with a solid surface to live on in an otherwise watery world.
These floating synthetic dwellings and their microbial inhabitants have a name: the plastisphere.
Microbes of the plastisphere live in waters
from Australia to Europe. They differ
by location, are as varied as the plastic
they live on and can be a tasty food
option for other creatures. What
impact — good or bad — the
microbe-covered plastic has on the oceans is still in ques-
tion. Early hints suggest that there may be climate effects and
unexpected movement of harmful microbes or other creatures
to new destinations. Each study sparks new ideas and new
“This is an opportunity to learn about the ocean from a big
experiment that has already been put in place by humans,”
says marine chemist Tracy Mincer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
As the plastic multiplies
Plastic is everywhere. Finding it polluting the world’s oceans
has been a worrisome reality for years. But a discovery
more than four decades ago shocked a pair of Woods Hole
In 1972, scientists were trawling the surface of the Sargasso
Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean to collect Sargassum, a brown
algae seaweed. The researchers’ interest was diverted, however, by an unexpected catch: tiny plastic particles.
Repeated net tows caught more plastic. The researchers
calculated an abundance of 3,500 small plastic pieces per
square kilometer, and were left thinking about the future.
“The increasing production of plastics … will probably lead to
greater concentrations on the sea surface,” the researchers
wrote in Science.
Microscopic creatures take
advantage of plastic debris
in the oceans By Chris Samoray
Microplastics in the ocean run
5 millimeters across or less. Their
hard surfaces make them floating
oases for some ocean microbes.
Floating Fortress of
onto a tiny plastic
piece from the