OFF THE COAST OF SAN DIEGO — Elizabeth Lopez maneuvered a massive steel claw over the side of a 134-foot sailboat and guided its descent through swaying kelp and schools of fish 10 miles off the coast of San Diego. She was hoping to catch pieces of a mysterious marine ecosystem that scientists are calling the plastisphere.
It starts with particles of degraded plastic no bigger than grains of salt. Bacteria take up residence on those tiny pieces of trash. Then single-celled animals feed on the bacteria, and larger predators feed on them.