Fragments of plastic recovered from two 30 min manta trawls.
Image Credit: Blue Ocean Sciences
Marine debris pollution is prevalent throughout the world’s oceans and is an issue of critical impact to their biological and geochemical cycles. Sunlight and mechanical disruption break plastic in the ocean into tiny pieces, thereby imperiling the digestion and possible entanglement of dozens of marine species. The goal of this cruise was to collect data on marine debris and environmental pollutants in the Atlantic Ocean and Sargasso Sea and to test new monitoring assessment tools that can be utilized to evaluate the impacts of environmental pollutants on oceanic health. The team used traditional sampling methods, such as surface net trawls and water sampling, as well as implementing new analytical and environmental monitoring technologies to gain a better understanding of how petroleum-based products break down and enter the food chain.
In addition to examining marine debris, researchers looked at the biodiversity of microbial life and larval fishes collected during the cruise. Plastic debris may attract persistent organic pollutants, serving as a potential vector for toxin accumulation into organisms which then propagate through the food chain. To better understand these pollutants, fish were collected from surface water tows and then imaged and preserved for molecular and toxicological analysis in the lab. Researchers targeted microbes that may hold the promise for new energy sources, while using advanced methods for understanding the composition, structure, and biochemical dynamics of pollutants in the Atlantic.
The results are expected to further a microbiological understanding of this specific marine environment, as well as how the microbes impact and interact with other biological components. Identification of undescribed species of microbes with potential for biotechnological applications in bioremediation is also anticipated. The analysis of dissolved organic matter (DOM) released from marine debris and its attached microorganisms was also evaluated during this cruise. Experiments of marine debris incubated in seawater free of DOM will show whether or not marine debris in the surface ocean can be considered a new source of DOM.
Research undertaken by scientists on board:
- Diversity of Larval Fishes
- Studying Microbial Motion with Holographic Microscopy
- Electrogenic Bacteria Overview
- Dissolved organic matter
- Anaerobic Microbes