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Ocean's plastics offer a floating fortress to a mess of microbes

The plastisphere is potentially causing changes in ocean environments

1:12pm, February 9, 2016
floating microbes

HITCHHIKER A microscopic diatom latches onto a tiny plastic piece from the Sargasso Sea (colors added). 

Oceanfront property doesn’t come cheap. Except, perhaps, for some seafaring microbes.

Steady streams of tiny plastic pieces making their way into the ocean give microbial squatters a place to take up residence. Each plastic home comes equipped with a solid surface to live on in an otherwise watery world. These floating synthetic dwellings and their microbial inhabitants have a name: the plastisphere.

Microbes of the plastisphere live in waters from Australia to Europe. They differ by location, are as varied as the plastic they live on and can be a tasty food option for other creatures. What impact — good or bad — the microbe-covered plastic has on the oceans is still in question. Early hints suggest that there may be climate effects and unexpected movement of harmful microbes or other creatures to new destinations. Each study sparks new ideas and new theories.

“This is an opportunity to learn about the ocean from a big experiment that

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