Marine Fungi

Plastic Degraders

Plastic Degrading Marine Fungi

Learn more about marine plastic pollution, fungi, and get involved in a fun community project!

Plastic in the Ocean

Why is it a problem?

The Sheer Amount

In 2010, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean (NOAA 2021) and today's estimates range from 10-20 million metric tons annually (Urbanek et al. 2018).


Plastics don't decompose. Instead, they break down into smaller pieces, termed "microplastics," that continue to have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems (Hammer et al. 2012; Urbanek et al. 2018; NOAA 2021).


Plastics are harmful to marine organisms for many reasons. They can cause entanglements, internal damage from ingestion or lead to starvation due to a false sense of fullness, and they can be toxic from additives or adsorption of chemicals from the environment that bioaccumulate in marine animals (Hammer et al. 2012; Urbanek et al. 2018; Mohanan et al. 2020).

Do You Want to Help and Have Fun? Read on . . .

Here's How it Works:


I have chosen 8 of the best polyurethane (PU) degrading fungi and placed two different ones on a single PU Petri dish. Pictures from all interaction combinations are pictured in the following sections of the website.

I am asking you to place "bets" on what is going to happen on each plate. Your "bets" will be in the form of pieces of plastic pollution that you will clean up from the community you live in.

There are 4 possible outcomes that you can "bet" on:

1. One fungus will be competitively dominant and it is going to clear and take over most of the plate
2. They're a team: the two fungi on the plate are interacting in such a way that is allowing them to clear the plate more efficiently together than either one alone
3. Neither is dominant; they will both clear the same amount of the plate in the same time

4. Due to competition, their rate of clearance/growth will be slowed

If you predict the wrong outcome on any given plate, you will be asked to cleanup the amount of plastic that you "bet" and send in pictures.

At the end of the semester, I will also be organizing a beach cleanup with a community partner (Surfrider Foundation and/or 808Cleanups) for anyone participating on O'ahu.

If you "bet" right, there may be some cool prizes to win.

Let's get excited about cool marine microbes and help keep our planet clean and free of pollution!


Fungal Interactions Heat 1

100 vs. 135

(100 is on the bottom)
Highest Bet: Anthony - 1 Kg

100 vs. 179

(100 is on the left)
Highest Bet: Anthony - 1 Kg

100 vs. 204

(100 is on the top right)

100 vs. 328

(100 is on the bottom left)

Fungal Interactions Heat 2

100 vs. 330

(100 is bottom right)

100 vs. 496

(100 is bottom left)

100 v. 834

(100 is top left)

135 vs. 179

135 is top right)

Fungal Interactions Heat 3

135 vs. 204

(135 is on the bottom left)

135 vs. 328

(135 is on the bottom)

135 vs. 330

(135 is on the bottom)

135 vs. 496

(135 is on the right)

Fungal Interactions Heat 4

135 vs. 834

(135 is on the bottom left)

179 vs. 204

(179 is on the left)

179 vs. 328

(179 is on the left)

179 vs. 330

(179 is on the left)

Fungal Interactions Heat 5

179 vs. 496

(179 is on the left)

179 vs. 834

(179 is on the left)

204 vs. 328

(204 is on the left)

204 vs. 330

(204 is on the left)

Fungal Interactions Heat 6

204 vs. 496

(204 is on the left)

204 vs. 834

(204 is on the left)

328 vs. 330

(328 is on the left)

328 vs. 496

(328 is on the left)

Fungal Interactions Heat 7

328 vs. 834

(328 is on the left)

330 vs. 496

(330 is on the left)

330 vs. 834

(330 is on the top left)

496 vs. 834

(496 is on the left)

About me

Marine Biology Major, Botany Minor, Honors Program
Graduating Class of December 2022

Hello everyone and thank you for your participation in my project! My name is Ronja Steinbach and I am an undergraduate student attending the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico with roots in Germany.

Since doing an internship in the Rudgers Lab at the University of New Mexico during my senior year of high school, I became interested in studying mycology. I decided to combine this newfound interest with my long-standing ambition of becoming a marine biologist. Fortunately, I found the perfect place in the Amend Lab. I have been working with Dr. Anthony Amend since my freshman year and have gotten to dive deeper into the world of marine fungi.


I would like to thank the following people and programs for their support of this project:

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program
Ocean Conservation Award
José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (NOAA)
Dr. Anthony Amend
Syrena Whitner


Literature Cited

Hammer, J., M. H. S. Kraak, and J. R. Parsons. 2012. Plastics in the Marine Environment: The Dark Side of a Modern Gift. Page (D. M. Whitacre, Ed.) Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Springer Netherlands.

Mohanan, N., Z. Montazer, P. K. Sharma, and D. B. Levin. 2020. Microbial and Enzymatic Degradation of Synthetic Plastics. Frontiers in Microbiology 11.

NOAA. 2021. A Guide to Plastic in the Ocean.

Urbanek, A. K., W. Rymowicz, and A. M. Mirończuk. 2018. Degradation of plastics and plastic-degrading bacteria in cold marine habitats. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 102:7669–7678.