Plastic never goes away. I remember learning this first-hand after taking on a temporary job cleaning up a landfill after college. After 20 years underground, soda straws and flip-flops still look about the same. Plastic doesn’t go away if it gets into the ocean either, but sunlight can break down plastic in to tiny pieces that then look like food to other organisms.
My Research Question
Are biofilms on plastic debris responsible for the heavy metals on plastic debris?
WHAT DOES SMALL, FLOATING PLASTIC DEBRIS COLLECT AROUND IT? Bacteria and algae can form a mucus film around plastic called a biofilm. Plastic also collects pollutants and heavy metals like lead and mercury from the water. There is a need for research that shows how bacteria and algae on the plastic's surface influence the way plastic collects pollutants.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THESE PLASTICS AND THEIR ADSORBED CHEMICALS ARE EATEN BY SMALL ORGANISMS? Some studies show that pollutants collected by plastic debris can transfer from plastic to the tissues of organisms that eat plastic. We don't know how biofilms influence the collection of pollutants from the water, whether or not it influences how tempting it is for marine organisms to eat the plastic, or if it makes it easier for the chemicals to release from the plastic into the body of the organism. It's important to fill in the research gaps so we know more about how plastic might be affecting the marine ecosystem.
Heather Richard Romberg Tiburon Center San Francisco State University E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org