Last updated May 17, 2019 at 4:30 pm
A new study has found that the only bacteria in the ocean that help us breathe is susceptible to plastic pollution.
Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from Prochlorococcus, a type of bacteria in the ocean.
However, new research has shown that this tiny bacteria is impaired by chemicals from common plastic products.
The study, which was published in Communications Biology, exposed two different strains of the bacteria, to chemicals leached from grey plastic shopping bags (made from high-density polyethylene) and PVC matting.
It was also found that exposure to these chemicals altered the expression in a large number of the bacteria’s genes.
Plastic pollution affects more than marine food webs
“So one in every ten breaths of oxygen you breathe in is thanks to these little guys, yet almost nothing is known about how marine bacteria, such as Prochlorococcus respond to human pollutants,” she says.
Sasha Tetu, also from Macquarie, says that microorganisms need to be considered when assessing the impact of the pollution.
“If we truly want to understand the full impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment and find ways to mitigate it, we need to consider its impact on key microbial groups, including photosynthetic microbes.”
The cost of plastic pollution
Each year, plastic pollution is estimated to cause more than US$13 billion (AUD$18.75 billion) in damage to marine ecosystems.
As well as the financial cost, plastic pollution is predicted to physically outweigh fish by 2050.
The rate of plastic production is only increasing.
This increase, teamed with the slow decomposition rate of plastic means that the amount of plastic pollution in our marine environments will continue to rise.
The full study can be read here.