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Plastic produced in 2019 will impose a cost of
more than US$3.1 trillion (+/-US$1 trillion) over
its lifetime in the form of a reduction in marine
ecosystem services, 85% of this cost will be borne by
societies and governments in the next 100 years.77
The ocean is one of the world's most important
resources fulfilling a range of roles for people, known as
ecosystem services.78
habitat and cultural services.80
not yet allow us to accurately quantify the decline in annual
ecosystem service delivery related to marine plastic, evidence
suggests substantial negative impacts on almost all ecosystem
services on a global scale.81
Additional research is needed
Annual ecosystem services provided by
marine ecosystems are estimated to be worth US$61.3 trillion
in 2011,79
the key components being provisioning, regulating,
Provisioning services include
the various goods people can obtain from marine habitats,
including aquatic food in the form of farmed or wild capture
fish, invertebrates, and seaweeds. Regulating services include
carbon sequestration (see Deep Dive 3), flood control, and
pest control. Finally, habitat and cultural services include
novel chemicals, genetic diversity, spiritual sites, and
Plastic waste reduces the value that people can
derive from the ocean. While available research does
to precisely quantify this reduction, but it is considered
conservative by marine ecosystem experts to assume that the
reduction of marine ecosystem services because of marine
plastic pollution is likely to be between 1-5%.82
This would
bring the minimum cost of plastic pollution to US$4,0858,170
per tonne of plastic in the ocean per year.83
estimate is conservative when compared to the reduction
in terrestrial ecosystem services due to anthropogenic
disturbances available in the literature.84
Plastic will continue
to incur costs every year as it breaks down into smaller
particles, this means that each tonne of plastic that enters
the ocean incurs a minimum of US$204,270-408,541 over
its lifetime.85
Therefore, the plastic produced in 2019 that
becomes marine plastic pollution will incur a minimum
cost of US$3.1 trillion (+/-US$1 trillion) over its lifetime in
the ocean, equal to more than 60% of global spending on
education in 2019.86
The ocean is one of the world's largest carbon
sinks. The ocean plays a critical role in removing carbon
dioxide (CO2
25% of all CO2
in the ocean capture carbon from the ocean's surface
and transport it to the seabed, removing it from the
atmosphere. For example, phytoplankton ingest carbon
during photosynthesis. Zooplankton and other marine
organisms then consume the phytoplankton and release
the captured carbon in their faecal matter. This excreted
carbon then sinks to the ocean floor where it remains
trapped for hundreds to thousands of years.88
Plastic may be limiting the effectiveness of the
ocean as a carbon sink. Both lab and field experiments
have confirmed that microplastics are being ingested
by zooplankton.89
This ingestion can make zooplankton
faecal matter more buoyant, meaning it is slower to sink
to the ocean floor.90
Lab experiments have also shown
that microplastic ingestion can impact on the feeding rate
of zooplankton. For example, exposure to polystyrene
beads resulted in ingestion of 11% fewer algal cells and
40% less carbon biomass, with a reduction in the size
of algae consumed.91
Exposure to microplastics could
therefore have negative impacts on zooplankton growth
and reproduction.92
These two impacts have potential
implications for the functioning of the ocean as a carbon
sink. For instance, the slower zooplankton sinks, the
more time carbon has to escape back into the atmosphere.
© shutterstock / Fedorova Nataliia
) from the atmosphere, absorbing more than
Biological processes occurring
Additionally, given the importance of zooplankton to the
functioning of the sink, threats to zooplankton populations
from reduced feeding could also interfere with the sink.
Research into these impacts is nascent. Nonetheless, the
emerging evidence highlights that plastic threatens the
carbon sink function of the ocean.
Plastic could therefore be contributing to the
climate crisis on two fronts, by emitting CO2
limiting the ability of the ocean to remove this CO2
exacerbating the impact of the emissions.
and by


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of TCoPS

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