New publication: Dissolved organic carbon leaching from plastics stimulates microbial activity in the ocean
Approximately 5.25 trillion plastic pieces are floating at the sea surface. The impact of plastic pollution on the lowest trophic levels of the food web, however, remains unknown. Here we show that plastics release dissolved organic carbon (DOC) into the ambient seawater stimulating the activity of heterotrophic microbes. Our estimates indicate that globally up to 23,600 metric tons of DOC are leaching from marine plastics annually. About 60% of it is available to microbial utilization in less than 5 days. If exposed to solar radiation, however, this DOC becomes less labile. Thus, plastic pollution of marine surface waters likely alters the composition and activity of the base of the marine food webs. It is predicted that plastic waste entering the ocean will increase by a factor of ten within the next decade, resulting in an increase in plastic-derived DOC that might have unaccounted consequences for marine microbes and for the ocean system.