Seagrass is removing marine plastics

New research finds that seagrass provides yet another ecosystem service by naturally removing plastic particles from the sea.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that a species of Mediterranean seagrass is trapping small particles of plastic in natural bundles of fibre.

The fibres from fallen leaves of Posidonia oceanica, a species of seagrass also known as Neptune grass, intertwine to form tangles known as Neptune balls.

The microplastics trapped in these balls are mainly filaments, fibres and fragments of polymers, such as the polyester used in drinks and food packaging. The study reveals that Neptune balls can capture nearly 900 million plastic items per year.

Plastic particles are filtered, trapped and then removed from the water, usually through beaching during storms.

“Our results show how seagrasses, one of the key ecosystems on Earth in terms of provision of goods and services, also counteract marine plastic pollution,” write the researchers in their study. “We show that plastic debris in the seafloor can be trapped in seagrass remains, eventually leaving the marine environment through beaching,”

It’s thought that this natural way of clearing plastics has “significant value” and “represents a continuous purge of plastic debris out of the sea.” The study concludes that this is yet another reason “why we need to protect and preserve these vulnerable ecosystems.”

The full article is available online.