Sea Squirts - Creatures Helping Reduce Plastic Pollution

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Amir Cohen

We are always searching for ways to keep our oceans clean and protect its wonderful creatures. Interestingly enough, the two may now be going hand-in-hand.

In a recent article published by the World Economic Forum, journalist Ari Rabinovitch reports findings of a new way to measure the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans: sea squirts, otherwise known as “ascidians.” As cute as they sound, these creatures are actually becoming surprisingly useful in measuring the areas with plastic pollution. Specifically, the article defined the sea squirt as a “rubbery sea creature with an irritating habit of clinging to ships and invading beaches”.  Rabinovitch claims these organisms “could help measure plastic pollution as it can filter tiny particles from the ocean and store them in its soft tissue”. As you can imagine, this information leads to a whole other positive externality: Can these sea squirts be a gateway into a more accurate estimation of the impact pollution has on our oceans? The answer leans towards ‘yes’ with the added condition that there may be limit to the scope of the areas that they are in and/or could represent.

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

Furthermore, these sea creatures are usually found in dirty, highly industrialized areas, as well as fresh and clean waters. They are able to filter the water in these areas and their tissue absorbs the tiny plastic particles and the dirt in the water. Optimistically, these creatures could be a huge help in measuring the amount of pollution in certain areas. It’s increasingly necessary for researchers to utilize all potential resources in understanding the scope of the pollution affecting our environment. For that, I am excited to see how sea squirts can contribute to the sustainable movement.