The ocean — a vast mystery, covering 70% of our world’s surface, producing oxygen, and holding the majority of life on Earth.
The depths of the ocean are not the most hospitable habitats for marine life — with high pressures, absent light, and scarce nutrients it can be hard for anything to survive. But the sea floor can reveal unexpected things; from natural life havens in heated water from fissures in the seafloor to whale corpses. A recent discovery found biodiversity in the depths of the ocean has developed unusual habitats...made of plastic!
The South China Sea has become a hot spot for deep-sea pollution, arousing great public concern. With this in mind, researchers used deep-diving submarines to look for plastic. What they found was surprising: these objects were full of life, with 49 different species inhabiting them.
Prominent among them were jellyfish polyps — a stage of the animal’s life cycle in which it is fixed to a surface — and the juveniles of shelled organisms called brachiopods, but the team also found free-living creatures such as deep-sea snails and parasitic flatworms.
Why is this happening? Researchers think it might be because solid objects are scarce on the ocean’s deep-floor. When these objects are available, organisms find them suitable for settling on.
But is it a good thing or a bad thing that plastic objects are adding to the deep-ocean fauna? Nature’s adaptability to the most adverse conditions is inspiring — but that doesn’t mean plastic belongs in the depths of the ocean. It’s still a problem, even though nature is finding a way to fix it herself.
The world is currently producing nearly hundreds of million tons of plastic each year - and a significant amount will end up in the oceans. Why is this a problem? Not only is this harmful to the environment and the oceans, but it is also harmful to wildlife - injuring and killing fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. It also ends up polluting the human food chain, as the plastic ingested by fish ends up being digested by humans.
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