Future Ocean Habitats Built on Plastics?

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In the last 40 years there has been a 100-fold increase of plastics in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, according to a study in Biology Letters. These plastics don’t only poison and strangle sea creatures—one of the findings of our “Swimming With Nurdles” graphic in May/June—they might re-weave the web of life, the study says.

The increase in plastic bounty has been an excellent breeding ground for Halobates sericeus—a type of water skater that typically lays its eggs on naturally occurring flotsam like wood, pumice, and sea shells. Lead author Miriam Goldstein and her colleagues found a rise in the insects egg density in the Pacific Gyre. "We're seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic," Goldstein said in a release.

Because invertebrates like H. sericeus are a critical link between algae, the primary producers of biomass in the ocean, and animals further up the food chain, plastic-induced changes in their population echo up and down the ecosystem. Crabs and zooplankton, the respective predator and prey of Halobates sericeus, could be the first animals affected by the increase in the skaters. Plastics take decades, if not much, much longer to degrade; it might be some time before scientists figure out the full extent that the web of life has become tangled.