Global impact of the synergistic toxicity of microplastics and organic UV filters on phytoplankton

, Revels Brandi, Cooper Adam, Duncan Caroline, Kronquist Ray, Kurkjian Robert, Dryden Howard.

Global phytoplankton populations have decreased by more than 50% since 1950 and continue to decline by 1% per year. This loss of these primary producers directly impacts the entire oceanic ecosystem and reduces the resiliency of our climate system through the removal of a critical carbon sink. Recent advances in ecotoxicology have revealed the synergistic toxicity of two emerging groups of pollutants: weathered microplastics and hydrophobic organic pollutants. Specifically, microplastics have emerged as an important vector for concentrating and transporting organic pollutants such as organic UV filters used in sunscreens, other personal care products and plastics. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a natural experiment for the sudden removal of these pollutants in tourist communities which have seen a substantial reduction in human activity. NASA's MODIS chlorophyl a dataset reveals rebounding phytoplankton populations and marine communities during the COVID-19 pandemic when the sources of these pollutants decline. Lessons learned from these observations should lead to more detailed studies and ultimately to reductions of these pollutants in the ocean through regulation and public awareness.

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