A sea-of-plastic bags that has been accumulating at airports across the world is taking a toll on the environment, a study has found.
Researchers at the International Centre for Tropical Microbiology (ICTM) in Panama City, Panama, studied the growth of a common plastic bag called an “ice bag” at airports in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Islands and found it is polluting the environment.
“There are hundreds of millions of these bags in the air and we have seen it is spreading,” Dr. Yossi Weiss, ICTM senior researcher, said.
The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, also found the growth rate of these plastic bags is increasing, reaching a maximum of about one bag a second.
The researchers looked at the growth rates of several species of sea cucumber, a blue finned octopus and an African sand crab.
“This is a sea cucurbit that we found in a small area at a beach in Asia.
We were looking for one species and we found it,” Weiss said.”
It has been growing in a very small area for two years, so we were not sure how big it would become.
We tried to get an estimate of how many bags were there and found that there were thousands.”
Researchers found the ice bag is a highly nutritious food source for marine invertebrates.
“The ice bag can be used as a food source because it contains a lot of protein and carbohydrates,” Weiss explained.
“These animals need protein and carbohydrate, but the ice is very nutritious and it can be eaten raw, which is where it is grown in small quantities.”
The researchers found that the growth has been declining due to the loss of nutrients in the water from the bags.
“One of the key things we need to consider is how this impacts on the marine life,” Weiss added.
“We have seen some of the invertebrate species have been dying off because they are not getting enough nutrients in their diet, and we want to know if there are other changes that might be happening at the same time.”
“We need to find out how these bags are affecting these marine invertes in the ocean.”
The study found the plastic bags are polluting marine ecosystems in all three areas, but particularly at airports and in the sea, in addition to the land.
“If we look at the sea cucumbers, we saw that they are in decline in their own area,” Weiss noted.
“They are the only invertelet in their habitat, so they are a really important ecosystem.”
In addition, we have also seen the sea crabs, which are very important to the marine food chain in the oceans, are disappearing.
“There is no reason to think that this will continue to happen, because it’s not a sustainable way of consuming food.”
So, we need the sea turtles to be considered when we look for alternatives to the plastic bag.
“The ICTM has previously identified many other marine species that are affected by plastic bags, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, porpoises, rays, sharks and rays of light.