Concept: Ocean gyre
Plastic marine pollution in the open ocean of the southern hemisphere is largely undocumented. Here, we report the result of a (4489km) 2424 nautical mile transect through the South Pacific subtropical gyre, carried out in March-April 2011. Neuston samples were collected at 48 sites, averaging 50 nautical miles apart, using a manta trawl lined with a 333μm mesh. The transect bisected a predicted accumulation zone associated with the convergence of surface currents, driven by local winds. The results show an increase in surface abundance of plastic pollution as we neared the center and decrease as we moved away, verifying the presence of a garbage patch. The average abundance and mass was 26,898particles km(-2) and 70.96gkm(-2), respectively. 88.8% of the plastic pollution was found in the middle third of the samples with the highest value of 396,342particles km(-2) occurring near the center of the predicted accumulation zone.
Plastic debris has been documented in many marine ecosystems, including remote coastlines, the water column, the deep sea, and subtropical gyres. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), colloquially called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” has been an area of particular scientific and public concern. However, quantitative assessments of the extent and variability of plastic in the NPSG have been limited. Here, we quantify the distribution, abundance, and size of plastic in a subset of the eastern Pacific (approximately 20-40°N, 120-155°W) over multiple spatial scales. Samples were collected in Summer 2009 using surface and subsurface plankton net tows and quantitative visual observations, and Fall 2010 using surface net tows only. We documented widespread, though spatially variable, plastic pollution in this portion of the NPSG and adjacent waters. The overall median microplastic numerical concentration in Summer 2009 was 0.448 particles m(-2) and in Fall 2010 was 0.021 particles m(-2), but plastic concentrations were highly variable over the submesoscale (10 s of km). Size-frequency spectra were skewed towards small particles, with the most abundant particles having a cross-sectional area of approximately 0.01 cm(2). Most microplastic was found on the sea surface, with the highest densities detected in low-wind conditions. The numerical majority of objects were small particles collected with nets, but the majority of debris surface area was found in large objects assessed visually. Our ability to detect high-plastic areas varied with methodology, as stations with substantial microplastic did not necessarily also contain large visually observable objects. A power analysis of our data suggests that high variability of surface microplastic will make future changes in abundance difficult to detect without substantial sampling effort. Our findings suggest that assessment and monitoring of oceanic plastic debris must account for high spatial variability, particularly in regards to the evaluation of initiatives designed to reduce marine debris.
Subtropical oceanic gyres are the most extensive biomes on Earth where SAR11 and Prochlorococcus bacterioplankton numerically dominate the surface waters depleted in inorganic macronutrients as well as in dissolved organic matter. In such nutrient poor conditions bacterioplankton could become photoheterotrophic, that is, potentially enhance uptake of scarce organic molecules using the available solar radiation to energise appropriate transport systems. Here, we assessed the photoheterotrophy of the key microbial taxa in the North Atlantic oligotrophic gyre and adjacent regions using (33)P-ATP, (3)H-ATP and (35)S-methionine tracers. Light-stimulated uptake of these substrates was assessed in two dominant bacterioplankton groups discriminated by flow cytometric sorting of tracer-labelled cells and identified using catalysed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridisation. One group of cells, encompassing 48% of all bacterioplankton, were identified as members of the SAR11 clade, whereas the other group (24% of all bacterioplankton) was Prochlorococcus. When exposed to light, SAR11 cells took 31% more ATP and 32% more methionine, whereas the Prochlorococcus cells took 33% more ATP and 34% more methionine. Other bacterioplankton did not demonstrate light stimulation. Thus, the SAR11 and Prochlorococcus groups, with distinctly different light-harvesting mechanisms, used light equally to enhance, by approximately one-third, the uptake of different types of organic molecules. Our findings indicate the significance of light-driven uptake of essential organic nutrients by the dominant bacterioplankton groups in the surface waters of one of the less productive, vast regions of the world’s oceans-the oligotrophic North Atlantic subtropical gyre.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 25 October 2012; doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.126.