29 April, 2016

Sea Skaters Love Plastic Pollution

Sea skaters have tiny hairs on their legs, which trap air to keep them afloat--even during ocean storms.

Sea skaters or ocean striders (genus Halobates (Hemiptera-Heteroptera, Gerridae) are widespread in tropical oceans--in fact, they spend their entire lives on the open ocean. One sea skater, Halobates sericeus, actually benefits from a modern, monumental environmental disaster: the circling mass of plastic trash and man-made debris called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 


Yum! The sea skater loves microplastic.

The Patch is a zone in the northern Pacific Ocean, possibly as large or larger than the State of Texas, where man-made junk has been swept into a set of rotating currents called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Centuries ago, bits of wood, rock and shells were the only things floating in this zone. This flotsam has since been joined by trash bags, bottles, packaging, and other human detritus. 

It’s not enough that we’ve wrecked our planet’s land masses; we’ve been using our oceans for garbage dumping as well.

About 90 per cent of the trash in the Patch consists of bits of plastic smaller than a fingernail. They’re the remnants of larger pieces, torn apart by the elements. And everything eats them: fish, crustaceans, even filter-feeders like mussels and barnacles. The plastic pieces harm the sea creatures who eat them, and also leach synthetic chemicals into the environment. 


Only one species benefits from this travesty: the sea skater. These insects need hard surfaces on which to lay their eggs, and microplastics provide those in abundance. Between 1972 and 2010 the amount of microplastic in the Garbage Patch increased by two orders of magnitude. Over the same period, the water striders became significantly more abundant. 

I’m not at all sure I’m happy for the sea skater. Are you? 


Sources

Halobates
Insects that Skate on the Ocean Benefit from Plastic Junk
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Vast Quantity Of Plastic Wastes In The Pacific Ocean Rises A Hundred Fold Over Forty Years

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