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The lush meadows of underwater grass are removing plastic from the sea

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Mediterranean grass blocks plastic particles in its leaves

Jordi Regs

Underwater seagrass can be naturally blocking millions of pieces of marine plastic and removing them from the sea.

Posidonia oceanica, an endemic marine herb in the Mediterranean, forms lush meadows on the seabed in coastal waters up to 40 meters deep.

When P. oceanica shed leaves, the fibers in the leaf sheaths intertwine, forming a tangle known as Neptune Ball. Anna Sanchez-Vidal at the University of Barcelona in Spain and her colleagues have discovered that these balls block plastic items.

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When there is a storm, and these balls are pulled from the sea to the land, the plastic is also pulled back ashore, says Sanchez-Vidal.

Her team estimates that these Neptune balls can block up to 867 million plastic items in the Mediterranean each year.

Between 2018 and 2019, the team measured the amount of plastic collected from seagrass debris from four beaches in Mallorca, Spain, which has high levels of plastic near the shore, as well as widespread seagrass meadows.

The team found plastic debris in half of the 42 loose sea leaf samples they took, with up to 613 plastic items per kilogram of loose leaf.

Of Neptune 198 balls P. oceanica the fiber the team collected, 17 percent had intertwined plastic items.

The finding shows the need for better conservation of seagrass meadows, says Sanchez-Vidal. Strict measures must be taken to protect these systems, she says.

In addition to their newly discovered role in blocking and removing plastic, seagrass meadows are also an important reservoir of carbon dioxide and sediment, and a nursery area for many marine animals.

P. oceanica found only in the Mediterranean Sea, but other species associated with seaweed are found in the shallow waters off the coast of Australia. It is unclear whether other species are able to form Neptune balls and function similarly in plastic removal.

Diary reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-020-79370-3

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