Tara Oceans project discovers preponderance of plankton - and plastic
A microscopic image shows a new species of plankton discovered by the Tara Expedition. (Tara Research)
(CBS News) LONDON - A team of about 15 scientists on a research sailboat has just completed a two-and-a-half year, 70,000-mile voyage looking at some of the world's smallest, but most important, creatures: plankton.
The microscopic creatures at the bottom of the food chain play an over-sized role in the global ecosystem.
"There are all kinds of microscopic life that do incredibly important functions for managing the planet, ensuring the well-being of the planet, generating the oxygen we breathe, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and generally maintaining this earth in a state that is habitable for us human beings," explains Tara Oceans scientist Chris Bowler.
The Tara team collected samples of sea-water and found, they say, about 1.5 million species of plankton - twice the number previously known to exist.
They found something else too: minute shreds of plastic. In fact, they found more plastic than plankton - especially in the Antarctic.
"We thought that areas like the Antarctic were pristine, being isolated, far away from humanity -- the fact that we found plastic debris down there - in terms of tens of thousands of pieces - is very sad, because this will hang around for thousands of years," says Bowler.
The state of the world's oceans - and the tiniest creatures in it - may determine whether the planet can sustain life for the rest of its creatures, including us.
- Couple hiding in bathtub saved by Okla. first responders
- One-pilot flights: Revolutionary or "ludicrous?"
- Why can't Oklahoma residents build tornado shelters?
- Mark Harmon: Humor and characters make "NCIS" a hit
- Could better weather tech predict tornadoes earlier?
- Boston bombings suspect left note in boat he hid in
- Deadly second act: 1999 Moore tornado vs. 2013 storm
- Elementary schools packed with kids sat in tornado's path
- Oklahoma tornadoes: Is 2013 worse than 1999?
- School children among Okla. tornado casualties
- Moore tornado: Sights and sounds of disaster, rescue
- John Fogerty: CCR reunion a possibility
- Stories of survival: Victims on how they weathered Okla. twister
- Athlete-amputee becomes artificial limb inventor
- Mother on reunion with son: I'm amazed he's alive
- Self-published Colleen Hoover talks living the American dream