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Ocean Pollution: Meet The Sea Squirt, Sucking Up Plastic Particles From The Sea

Israeli researchers have found that ascidians, also known as sea squirts, can help measure plastic pollution as they filter tiny particles from the ocean and store them in their soft tissue


Eilat: A rubbery sea creature with an irritating habit of clinging to ships and invading beaches could help measure plastic pollution as it can filter tiny particles from the ocean and store them in its soft tissue. Israeli researchers have found that ascidians – round, palm-sized animals also known as sea squirts, can thrive in dirty industrial areas and pristine waters alike, allowing them to detect and analyze waste and its impact in various regions.

A staggering amount of plastic flows into the ocean, each year. The United Nations says it is as if a garbage truck full of plastic was dumped into the water every minute, a rate some estimates show could lead to oceans carrying more plastic than fish in 30 years.

But the long-term impact of the waste, particularly tiny pieces called micro plastic, is still not fully understood.

“Sea squirts just sit in one place all their life and filter the water, like a pump,” said Dr. Gal Vered of Tel Aviv University, and who co-published the researchers’ findings in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

They can really give us a picture of what the whole reef, the whole ecosystem felt during its life.

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As a bonus, sea squirts are related in evolutionary terms to human beings. So studying them and the plastic inside them could be more insightful than looking at creatures like fish or clams. Noa Shenkar, of Tel Aviv University’s zoology department and museum of natural history, said,

Although we don’t look alike at all, we have similar systems.

Durable And Dangerous

Plastic never disappears. Over time it breaks down into micro plastics, ranging from the size of a grain of rice on down. They mix with tiny plastic beads found in products like cosmetics and cleaners that were flushed away.

These are eaten by wildlife, filling their bellies, exposing them to chemical additives and, potentially, entering the food chain, said Dr. Vered.

Dr. Vered searched piers and rocks in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, eventually finding a cluster of sea squirts on a brick.

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Back in her lab, a gentle push on one squirt’s belly saw the creature let loose the eponymous squirt of water. Invisible to the naked eye are the microplastics, perhaps once part of a bag or bottle, and that were found at all the sites they tested along Israel’s coasts. She said,

We as humans invented a material that can last for hundreds, thousands of years, and then we use it as a single-use product. It’s quite a paradox.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollutionclean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.

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