According to a study conducted in 2020, the prevalence of microplastics in the ocean has been significantly underestimated, and the number is at least double previous estimates. Professor Pennie Lundeque, who led the research, stated that “…microplastic concentrations could exceed 3,700 particles per cubic meter—that’s far more than the number of zooplankton you would find.”
Unfortunately, zooplankton ingest microplastics, and that’s one way that plastic enters the food web, moves up the food chain, and ends up on our plates, but the overall impacts are even more complex. Plankton are an essential part of the ocean’s carbon sink because they transport carbon dioxide to the seafloor where the carbon is then sequestered in sediments. Consequently, impacts to zooplankton may reduce the capacity of the ocean to absorb carbon and help “regulate global climate.”
As discouraging as the news may seem, there are simple things we can do to help. As individuals, we can refuse single-use plastic items, including plastic bags, take-away coffee cups, utensils, straws, polystyrene cups and clamshells, single-use water bottles, and all unnecessary plastic packaging.
Most importantly, we must hold the petrochemical industry and plastic producers to account, and we must insist that leaders at every level pass legislation to protect people, planet—and plankton!
(Join us in cities across North County San Diego to advocate for common-sense single-use plastic policies. Upcoming city council meetings during which plastics reduction measures will be discussed include Oceanside on August 4th, Carlsbad on August 14th, and San Marcos on September 14th. Please read the Surfrider San Diego blog post about the reluctant city council in Oceanside, and see the document linked HERE for details about all the upcoming meetings.)