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Barnacles eat Plastic

October 30, 2013

All that plastic you’ve heard about in the North Pacific Gyre–where does it go?
Barnacles seem to eat it, according to Miriam Goldstein and Deborah Goodwin. The figure shows (A) barnacles growing all over a buoy, (B) a barnacle closeup, with its shell and muscular peduncle; (C) bits of plastic isolated from the barnacle’s gut.

Do barnacles actually digest the plastic, and obtain nutrients from it? That’s hard to say without long-term studies. Plastic does get degraded by bacteria, albeit slowly. If the barnacles do incorporate plastic into their biomass, what about toxins? What about predators that eat the barnacles? This could go up the food chain. On the other hand, with all the plastic ending up in the ocean, perhaps this will be a necessary part  of the ecosystem. We may have to engineer ourselves to get used to it.

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