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Plastisphere - Ronald van der Meijs


Ronald van der Meijs

As a visual artist, I make location-based installations that create a dialogue between nature and culture, showing how we relate to nature and our technocratic society.

On studying the NIOZ research by Erik and Linda Amaral-Zettler into plastic pollution in our oceans, I read the term “plastisphere” and became fascinated by it. While discussing their research I learned that, over time, a biotope develops on pieces of plastic in the surface water of the oceans: this is the plastisphere. This life includes diatoms: single-celled life forms with glass-like, architectonic skeletons. So a dialogue is taking place here between nature and culture – between the plastic and the life growing on it. 

This inspired me to develop a living cell structure made of plastic bags, a reference to our modern culture and the biotope on the plastic soup. A vacuum pump system causes the structure to breathe slowly. 

Location Artwork: De Burght Kerk 
Binnenburg 2, 1791 CG Den Burg
Number 8 (see map)


Professor Linda Amaral-Zettler, marine microbiologist: 
‘I am fascinated by the “plastisphere”: the thin layer of living organisms that clings to pieces of plastic in the ocean. You can find this plastisphere on pieces of plastic washed ashore on the beach, but also on plastic floating around in the “plastic soup” in the oceans.’
‘It’s pretty unusual that so many bacteria, algae and other organisms live on pieces of plastic. Especially in the middle of the ocean, there’s very little food for these sorts of organisms. My main aim is to investigate what it is that attracts these living creatures to our waste. Is it just a place to cling to, or are they doing something to the plastic? Maybe even breaking it down a little?’

Living on a plastic planet
Marine microbiologist Professor Linda Amaral-Zettler is fascinated by plastic, or rather, by the life that attaches itself to plastic. ‘There’s an incredible amount of plastic waste floating in the seas and oceans. You can see it when you walk along the strandline, for example. If you take a closer look at a piece of beach plastic, it’s sometimes completely covered with a layer of bacteria, algae and other living creatures. They have seen that plastic as an opportunity: a surface to cling to. Just as the thin layer of life clinging to the earth’s surface is called the biosphere, I see the layer of life on a piece of plastic as the plastisphere.’

Desert in the ocean
‘The waste in the oceans is sometimes described as a “plastic soup”. It collects together in enormous twisting eddies, hundreds of kilometres in diameter. This soup is by no means a thick, dense one, let alone a carpet of waste, but overall there’s a lot of plastic in our oceans! In these places the ocean water itself is very poor in nutrients, and there’s relatively little life. You can even see them as a kind of desert in the ocean. So it’s all the more remarkable that bacteria and algae collect on the plastic. What is it that attracts them? Together with my colleagues and students, I am seeking to discover the interactions between plastic and microorganisms.’

‘It might be that the bacteria are using the plastic as a type of raw material. I don’t believe they can consume it entirely. So our research isn’t necessarily aimed at finding a solution to the plastic problem in the microbial world, but at understanding how microorganisms are shaping this new environment.’

 More information about Linda’s work can be found on the NIOZ website.

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Science Encounters Art

SEA Texel

Ruim 70 procent van onze aarde bestaat uit zee. Een onuitputtelijke bron van inspiratie. S.E.A brengt een ode aan de zee, door kunstwerken geïnspireerd op wetenschap op Texel te realiseren.

Contact informatie

Project SEA
Pontweg 19
1797 SN Den Hoorn, Texel