In recognition of World’s Oceans Day, ScienceOpen hosted a special article collection published by nonprofit Annual Reviews that address the topics of marine pollution, human impact and environmental stewardship, and marine species’ adaptation. The Oceans collection aims to raise awareness about the grave consequences of plastic debris in our oceans and the overall impact humans have on the marine environment.
Plastics contamination was first reported nearly 50 years ago, following the rise of commercial plastics production. According to ‘Plastics in the Marine Environment’ by Kara Laveder Law, global plastics production surpassed 300 million metric tons per year in 2014. Plastic debris has been detected worldwide in all major marine habitats. In her article, Law presents a framework to evaluate the current “understanding of the sources, distribution, fate, and impacts of marine plastics”. In a similar vein, ‘Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant’ by Boris Worm et al. discusses how marine plastics work their way into the food web in the first place. This article further presents the complex toxicology of plastic particles on marine life and how plastic can transfer up the food chain. Worm et al. offer solutions to the current crisis by suggesting a Global Convention on Plastic Pollution as a collaboration between “governments, producers, scientists, and citizens”.
In Kenneth R. Weiss’ interview with environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck—one of the co-authors of Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant’—we discover that the pileup of plastic debris is more than ugly ocean litter. Jambeck argues that plastic gets consumed by marine organisms, which can be detrimental for both wildlife and humans:
“Even though plastics are hard materials, at the microscopic level they absorb persistent organic compounds. Persistent organic pollutants like DDT, PCBs, flame retardants and fabric treatments have an affinity for plastic. Plastics act like sponges, soaking them up.”
According to Jambeck, humans consume this polluted plastic by eating whole animals such as oysters and clams. This is an unavoidable consequence of ocean plastic pollution since long-chain polymers found in plastic “don’t really biodegrade”. Jambeck urges for the reduction of plastic production and new ways to deliver products with less waste.
As if plastic debris was not enough of a problem, oceans face acidification and climate change which, as argued by Kenneth R.N. Anthony in ‘Coral Reefs Under Climate Change and Ocean Acidification: Challenges and Opportunities for Management and Policy’, is a cause of carbon emissions in industrialized countries. This is a major issue for coral reefs as climate change drives ocean warming, which in turn impacts biological and ecological reef processes, triggers large-scale coral bleaching events, and fuels tropical storms. Ocean acidification contributes to the decay of coral reefs by slowing reef growth, altering competitive interactions, and impairing population replenishment. The role of the coral microbiome in coral resilience, acclimation and environmental adaptation is addressed in detail in ‘Insights into the Coral Microbiome: Underpinning the Health and Resilience of Reef Ecosystems’ by Bourne, Morrow and Webster.
In the light of Plastic Free July, a global movement for a world without plastic waste, we hope this collection will help spread the word about the current state of the oceans and urge everyone to act and contribute to saving the oceans. According to Elissa Pearson et al., one of the best ways to do so is by participating in awareness-raising campaigns on social media. Read ‘Can We Tweet, Post, and Share Our Way to a More Sustainable Society? A Review of the Current Contributions and Future Potential of #Socialmediaforsustainability’ and decide for yourself whether social media can contribute to the sustainability goal. If you agree, we look forward to taking the discussion on oceans to ScienceOpen’s social media platforms!
Oceans is available online for free through July 31, 2018 and always available at subscribing institutions.