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The Harmful Side Effect of Cleaning Up the Ocean

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Egger stresses that TOC wants to make sure its plastic-cleaning efforts are helping marine life, not harming it. But it’s more complicated than simply trying to minimize the amount of marine life taken out of the ocean along with plastic, he says. If crustaceans or sea anemones from other regions cling to plastic debris and hitch a ride to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they could feed on neuston there. Is it then right or wrong to remove these invaders, who may be disrupting the local ecosystem? “There is always marine life associated with the plastic,” says Egger. “But very often, it’s marine life that does not belong there, because the plastic does not belong there.”

study published in mid-April offers some clues as to which traveling species could pose a problem. Researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center examined 105 pieces of plastic debris they had obtained in frozen form from TOC. They found traces of species normally found in coastal waters that had used floating plastic as rafts and ended up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—in…

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