A recent study conducted by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute paints a bleak picture of pollution levels in the oceans. The focus of their research was the alga Melosira arctica, which thrives beneath the Arctic ice.
Initially thought to be protected from human pollution, this alga serves as the sole source of food for a diverse marine fauna in the Arctic regions. As a central link in the Arctic marine ecosystem, Melosira arctica occupies the starting point of the food chain.
However, upon closer examination, scientists made a disconcerting discovery. Their findings, published in a recent study, reveal that the concentration of microplastics within the algae is significantly higher than that in the surrounding seawater.
What makes matters worse is that this source of pollution persists even after the algae die. As the plant decomposes, it sinks into the depths of the ocean, carrying thousands of microplastic particles with it. Researchers speculate that the presence of microplastics within the Arctic ice may explain the unexpectedly high pollution levels.
These seaweeds rely on the water within the ice to sustain themselves, and they possess distinct sediments not typically found in seawater. However, this uniqueness, which makes ice water a seemingly pure food source, also enables the rapid spread of microplastics throughout the ocean.
The high concentration of microplastics is cause for concern. Scientists warn that if the immediate environment surrounding the algae is already experiencing unprecedented pollution, the consequences could extend far beyond the ice pack. After all, as mentioned earlier, algae serve as a crucial food source in the Arctic regions.
This pollution also poses risks to human health. Fish caught in Arctic areas are likely to be contaminated by microplastics. Additionally, the presence of microplastics within the “body” of the algae complicates the process of photosynthesis. Consequently, carbon capture is hindered, contributing to global warming. It is worth noting that plastic pollution accounts for 2.3 million tons of waste in the oceans, a significant portion of which breaks down into “microplastic” particles measuring only 20 to 30 μm. To put it into perspective, a human hair is approximately 70 μm thick.
These findings prompt Sargassum Monitoring to raise several important questions:
We are aware that sargassum absorbs various substances in its path, such as heavy metals and arsenic, but does it also contain microplastics?
When discussing the crushing and sinking of sargassum at sea, can we ensure that there will be no harmful consequences for the seabed and its relatively unknown fauna?
During their drifting, sargassum accumulates a significant amount of floating debris on the sea’s surface. It acts like a broom, collecting various waste items. Consequently, collecting, crushing, and sinking the seaweed without properly sorting the waste would inevitably lead to plastic pollution on the seafloor.
One thing is clear: “sweeping the dust under the carpet” does not solve the problem; it merely conceals it from view.
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