Ocean plastic is an indiscriminate hazard. It harms fish and kills seabirds, which wash up with bellies full of trash. Turtles swallow it because, the thinking goes, they mistake the floating waste for jellyfish. Less well known are the ways plastic damages the ocean’s smaller inhabitants, plankton and corals, which sometimes are found with particles wedged in their teeny guts.
…Savoca also didn’t expect corals to prefer plastic. In 2016, he and his colleagues reported that seabirds were attracted to smelly, bacteria-covered plastic, and he recently demonstrated that anchovy fish swarm around the odor of fouled plastic.
“We need to be thinking about the taste of plastic as a paradigm,” Seymour said, “not just a problem for corals.”
…Yet there is no question that plastic has penetrated the ocean, and even its remotest corner is not beyond human influence. Robot submersibles have spotted plastic bags on slopes leading to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the Pacific. Where no explorer will ever plant a flag or footprint, there is already plastic.