New research into various species of underwater plants has revealed a species of Mediterranean seagrass that is naturally predisposed to snagging plastic waste. The study, which will be found within “Scientific Reports” claims that this species, nown as Posidonia oceanica grabs onto nearly 900 million plastic chunks in the Mediterranean every year.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the means by which this particular marine plant achieves this staggering number is a bit of natural circumstance. When P. oceanica’s blades snap off or fall away, the fibers of the fragments turn into a tangled mass resembling a brown piece of steel wool known as a “Neptune ball.” Researchers noticed that Neptune balls have a natural predisposition toward snatching little bits of plastic and bringing them ashore during storms.
Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a marine biologist affiliated with the University of Barcelona and head author of the research project, mentions that the ability to harness plastic with seagrains could do wonders for keeping the waters less full of plastic and easing collection efforts by just going along the shoreline after a big storm.
Roughly 8 million tons of plastic finds itself in the oceans of this planet each year, equating to around 80% of all marine debris according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The problem with all of this waste in the ocean is that it can take decades to degrade, risking harm to over 800 different species of marine life in the the mean time. Plastics snag and trap marine life or even wind up inside of the stomachs of creatures big and small. Because these little bits and bobs of plastic are completely indigestible, they collect and collect until such point that the animal has no room left for proper food and starves to death as a consequence.
While the global community has become more aware of the issue of marine plastic pollution and even put millions of dollars into its removal, coastal pursuits toward this goal have illustrated how a single variety of seagrass could be a useful and cost-effective means of fighting ocean plastic. In order to test the plant’s ability to corral debris, researches counted the amount of plastic captured by the seagrass along four beaches on Mallorca between 2018 and 2019.
Half of the 42 samples of seagrass were found with plastics that accounted for up to 613 pieces per kilogram. 17% of the 198 balls contained not only plastics but several had a considerable amount; each kilogram of this natural byproduct contained around 1,500 bits of plastic, nearly three times the potential of normal loose plants.
According to AFP, the researchers reached their estimated collection figure for plastics by building upon prior estimates for the amount of seagrass fiber production within the Mediterranean. While the research conducted by this team focused on the balls that made it to shore, it remains unclear as to where most Neptune balls wind up; all that is known is that some wind up becoming beached along the shoreline after a storm.
Sanchez-Vidal believes that her team’s findings encourage the notion that protecting these underwater patches of seagrass will lead to a massive reduction in the volume of plastic found along coastal ocean regions. Furthermore, said seagrasses would also contribute the normal ecological benefits of seagrass:
- Absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Notably P. oceanica is able to absorb 15 times the normal amount of carbon dioxide than an equivalent amount of flora from the Amazon rainforest.
- Serving as nourishment for fish.
A bit more on Posidonia oceanica
This plant has two common names: Neptune grass and Mediterranean tapeweed. Italians refer to this particular plant’s fruit as the “olive of the sea.” In 2006, a massive clonal colony was found south of Ibiza that stretched over 5 miles and was estimated to be 100,000 years old.