How Tiny Plastic Debris Is Accumulating Underneath The Ocean

Whenever we see calls-for-action and videos showing us the amount of garbage that has ended up on the sea, we’re usually shown heaps and heaps of trash floating on the surface, getting washed away by the tides. Every now and then, we’re shown some trash ending up stuck on the coral reefs, or some fish thinking that it’s part of the marine ecosystem.

While this is already as bad as it sounds, new research reveals that these floating swathes of litter and debris on the ocean are just the tip of the iceberg.

Previously, a group of divers reported that they have spotted candy wrappers and plastic bags in as deep as the Mariana trench. Now, per an online report from scientists posted June 6 in Scientific Reports, it’s revealed that the garbage isn’t limited to a few. Far from it in fact, since the report illustrates how these plastic bags are the most common type of microplastics that can be found several hundred meters below the surface.

The team was able to discover this via remotely operated underwater vehicles, which they used to sample microplastics at depths of around 1,000 meters in Monterey Bay. Additionally, the team also sampled 24 pelagic crabs and eight mucus filters from giant larvaceans. Both of these organisms eat particles that are more or less as small as microplastics, and so sampling the pollutants found in their guts can help piece together the puzzle.

The findings revealed some very grave and alarming news: the amount of microplastics 1,000 meters deep is the same as the amount found per cubic meter in just five meters deep. Furthermore, each of the 24 pelagic crabs and mucus filter have microplastics present in their bodies. According to study co-author Anela Choy, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, it’s highly possible that these small creatures can spread the microplastics to even larger animals, increasing the problem.

“It’s really important that this study be replicated … at different depths and in different regions of the world,” Choy said. “I think we’re going to find that the deep sea might be one of the biggest reservoirs of plastic pollution on the planet.”

Ocean trash There's trillions of pieces of plastic afloat at sea, millions on the coast of our beaches, and more often than not marine life is ingesting it. So what does that mean for humans who eat certain marine animals, like fish? It's not good. killerturnip/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0