Posidonia oceanica is a seagrass species that grows in the Mediterranean Sea and is known to improve water quality and sequester carbon. Researchers from the University of Barcelona say it also has the ability to trap plastics in the sea at high concentrations and could prevent the debris from drifting farther into the ocean.
The plants generate fibrous material, which accumulates into what are known as ‘Neptune balls.’ These fibrous formations trap microplastics in the marine environment. Research shows that when the sea is calm, the balls remain on the ocean floor, and during storms in the autumn and winter, the plastic-rich balls are washed ashore and expelled from the ocean environment.
Researchers report finding plastic debris in half of their sample size and up to 1,470 pieces of plastic per kg of plant material. They believe meadows of Posidonia oceanica are capable of trapping up to 900 million pieces of plastics per year.
As the volume of plastics entering our ocean continues to grow, researchers believe the seaweed could play an important role in cleaning up our oceans. However, seagrass meadows are under threat from pollution, erosion, and climate change, and researchers estimate that Posidonia oceanica has lost 50% of its potential initial area since 1960. Scientists are calling for the conservation of seagrass meadows because they are integral to the health of the planet’s waterways.
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