Arctic ice algae, which provide food for many marine organisms and act as carbon sinks, were found to contain startling amounts of microplastics, according to researchers from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research and UK’s University of Birmingham. The researchers found an average of 31,000 microplastic particles – 10 times higher than in surrounding waters – per cubic metre of Melosira arctica, one of the most significant algae species in the Arctic Ocean, which provides food for plankton and marine life and serves as a food conveyor belt for seabed organisms. Melosira also accounts for 45% of the Arctic’s primary production.
Microplastics can come from the surrounding seawater, atmospheric deposits or supporting sea ice, and become stuck to the outside of algae or enter the algae cells themselves, blocking sunlight, and damaging the cells’ chloroplasts, thereby hindering photosynthesis. Smaller microplastics could also be ingested by larger organisms, threaten the transfer of energy up the food chain and alter life in ways including leading to higher egg production rates in Arctic zooplankton due to stress. The research should “accelerate talks about the importance and possible impact of microplastics in Arctic sea ice algae on the ecosystems that depend on these essential algae,” said the researchers.
Tags: Deonie Allen