(continued from previous)
“Almost there. I think I can see it!”
Jonathan turned the engine off as they began to cautiously approach the beginning of the big floating desert. As they got closer, a smell of seaweed, something fishy, and something else, began to weigh down on the air. As far as the eye could see, the ocean was now a vision from one of Yellowstone National Park’s archaea bacteria ponds – only that this one, was extending into infinity. Various hues of yellow, brown, pink and olive green were mixing into each other, growing and melting together like colours in a Salvador Dali painting. Just moments ago, the boat had been casually sailing through a familiar, sparkling blue sea. Now, it found itself enveloped within a surreal storm of earthy colours. It was a stale-smelling, brownish liquid inferno that I’m sure Hieronymus Bosch at some point must have depicted in one of his famous ”visions of hell”.
“it’s…it’s dying” said Olivia, holding up into the light one of her freshly collected samples. The phytoplankton was clumping up lifelessly, much of it falling to the bottom of the tube as she gave it a vigorous shake.
“I’ll have to run some further tests back in the lab, but for me that’s it, I think this bad boy is already baking in the sun” she said.
Yet still, no one had the slightest clue what had been triggering the increasingly large phytoplankton blooms of recent years. Climate change had long been implicated as one of the global factors, understandably affecting growth parameters such as water temperature and pH, not to mention surface salinity during prolonged downpours. Additional man-made factors were being considered such as pollution, the stagnation in the flow of nutrients due to the end of the Gulf Stream, and even the large-scale, top-secret geoengineering experiments that had allegedly happened over vast areas above the Atlantic, where titanium dioxide was sprayed into the stratosphere (it had been successfully disguised as another Elon Musk rocket experiment until the truth one day eventually leaked out on The Line).
Even plastic, a material generally considered as biologically inert, was being implicated simply due to its huge volume in the ocean. Releasing hormone-mimicking compounds and other molecules into the sea, the long-term effects of plastic were anyone’s guess. One way or another, Earth would eventually find a way to deal with plastic – probably once humans were gone for good. Microplastic could eventually become the new stardust of the universe. One day, when life on Earth is almost completely dead, one can conceivably imagine the next primordial soup of our planet brewing: it would contain some familiar ”old” molecules, as well as some new ones: plastic polymers. In a planet where everything is recycled, nothing goes to waste. A new organism could arise, carrying inside of it the plastic remnants of a long-gone, failed civilisation. Evolving to create its own civilisation, eventually become intelligent like us, and send rovers to nearby planets to see if they too, contain the same plastic building blocks of…life.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books