Seagrass Traps and Expels Marine Plastics in Fiber Balls, Study Finds

Could this be an ingenious way for nature to clean up its oceans?
Loukia Papadopoulos

They say that nature finds a way, and it may indeed be true. Scientists have discovered that seagrass on our oceans' floors has quite an interesting way of cleaning up large amounts of plastic debris it has been burdened with.


Expelling marine plastics

The research published in Scientific Reports is revealing that seagrass is trapping and then expelling marine plastics in fiber balls

"Our findings show that seagrass meadows promote plastic debris trapping and aggregation with natural lignocellulosic (plant dry matter) fibers, which are then ejected and escape the coastal ocean. Our results show how seagrasses, one of the key ecosystems on Earth in terms of provision of goods and services, also counteract marine plastic pollution," write the researchers in their study.

The team investigated a number of plastic particles found in loose seagrass and in fiber balls that had washed up on four beaches in Mallorca, Spain in the last three years. They discovered that there were up to 600 bits of plastic debris per 2.2 lb (1 kg) of loose leaves and up to 1,500 pieces per kilo of fiber balls.

However, only 17% of the fiber balls contained plastic while 50% of the loose leaves contained plastic. Could this be an ingenious way for the seagrass to clean the oceans they inhabit?

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A useful cleanup

"We show that plastic debris in the seafloor can be trapped in seagrass remains, eventually leaving the marine environment through beaching," lead author Anna Sanchez-Vidal, a marine biologist at the University of Barcelona, told AFP.

This strange but useful cleanup "represents a continuous purge of plastic debris out of the sea," Sanchez-Vidal explained.

However, a question remains as to what to do with the plastic that has been washed up with the seagrass. One solution would be to clean it up but that would interfere with the seagrass's purpose which consists of protecting beaches against erosion and providing nutrients for dune plants. It seems no solution is perfect after all. 

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