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Remote Island’s Plastic Rocks Highlight Human Impact on Earth’s Geology

A close up image of a plastic rock. Image Credit: Fernanda Avelar/Universidad Federal de Paraná/AFP

A geologist has discovered disturbing evidence of Human influence on the Isolated Trinidad Island; she discovered stones made of plastic.

In the isolated Trinidad Island, a volcanic outcrop off the coast of Brazil, geologist Fernanda Avelar Santos made a startling discovery: rocks formed by excess plastic pollution floating in the ocean.

Unintended Discovery on an Untouched Landscape

While researching her doctoral thesis on landslides, erosion, and geological hazards in 2019, Santos stumbled upon peculiar blue-green rocks near Turtle Beach, the world’s largest hatchery for endangered green turtles. Intrigued, she took samples back to her lab for analysis.

A New Geological Formation: Plastic Rocks

Santos and her team identified the samples as a new type of geological formation, combining Earth’s natural rock-forming materials and processes with human-made plastic waste. This discovery supports the concept of the Anthropocene, the geological age in which humans significantly influence the planet’s natural processes. These plastic rocks will likely be preserved in the geological record, marking the Anthropocene era.

Remote Paradise Threatened by Pollution

Santos, disturbed and concerned by her findings, described Trinidad Island as a paradise. The island’s remoteness has made it a haven for various species, including seabirds, unique fish, near-extinct crabs, and green turtles. With only a small Brazilian military base and a scientific research center, human presence on the island is minimal. However, the discovery of plastic rocks on one of the island’s most ecologically important beaches highlights the far-reaching consequences of pollution.

Global Presence of Plastic Rocks and Potential Environmental Impact

Santos’ subsequent research revealed that plastic rocks have been reported in locations like Hawaii, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan since 2014. However, Trinidad Island is the most remote location where they have been discovered to date. As these rocks erode, they may release microplastics into the environment, further contaminating the island’s food chain.

Classification of Plastic Rocks and Their Implications

The study by Santos and her team, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, categorized the new types of rocks found worldwide: “plastiglomerate,” similar to sedimentary rocks; “pyroplastics,” akin to clastic rocks; and a previously unidentified type, “plastistones,” resembling igneous rocks formed by lava flow. The team stated, “Human interventions are now so widespread that one has to question what is truly natural.”

Future Research Focus: Pollution’s Global Impact

Santos intends to make this subject her primary research focus. She noted, “Trinidad is the most pristine place I have ever seen. Seeing how vulnerable it is to the rubbish polluting our oceans shows how pervasive the problem is around the world.”

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