DATE: June 25, 2019
SNIP: You know we have a problem when our plastic pollution starts becoming a permanent fixture of the planet’s geology.
And that seems to be exactly what’s happening on the Portugeuese island of Madeira—a place famed for wine, mountain peaks and, perhaps soon, its plastic-encrusted shoreline.
Back in 2016, marine biologist Ignacio Gestoso first spotted the unusual patterns on rocks scattered along the island’s shore, as Gizmodo reports. It seemed that plastic was no longer content to wash ashore in its manufactured state, as bottles and wrappers and caps. Instead, it had formed a kind of hybrid material with the rock that would become known as “plasticrust.”
At the time, Gestoso wrote off the strange new material as an unhappy coincidence. Surely, this union of plastic and rocks couldn’t last.
But when he and his team returned to the island a year later, they found the marriage had not only lasted, but thrived.
In a new study, published in Science of The Total Environment, Gestoso and his colleagues describe “plasticrust” as a synthetic moss covering huge swathes of the island’s stony shoreline — and even sporting bright, new and terrible colors.
In fact, the researchers estimate plasticrust taints nearly 10 percent of rocky surfaces on the Madeira shoreline. At this rate, plasticrust is poised to become a part of our geological record.
“The dimension of the problem is so large that it is possible our current era will generate an anthropogenic marker horizon of plastic in earth’s sedimentary record,” the authors note in the study abstract.