Most people are aware by now that plastics floating around the ocean create a perilous environment for sea creatures, from turtle shell distortions to sea birds feeding plastic to their young. But researchers at Newcastle University have now shown that man-made materials are reaching the deepest parts of the oceans, documenting plastics and other fibers in the stomachs of creatures inhabiting all six of the deepest known trenches.
Revealing their findings today <15th NOVEMBER> as part of Sky Ocean Rescue - a campaign to raise awareness of how plastics and pollution are affecting our seas - the team tested samples of crustaceans found in the ultra-deep trenches that span the entire Pacific Ocean - the Mariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches.
An estimated 300 million tons of plastic pollute the oceans, with some 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons currently floating on the surface. After waste hits the open sea, only two options exist: catch a current to shore or degrade and fall to the ocean floor.
“Deep-sea organisms are dependent on food raining down from the surface,” explains Dr [Alan] Jamieson, “which in turn brings any adverse components, such as plastic and pollutants with it. “The deep sea is not only the ultimate sink for any material that descends from the surface, but it is also inhabited by organisms well adapted to a low food environment and these will often eat just about anything.
Dr. Jamieson, who is lead author of the study, said the findings indicate it is unlikely that any marine ecosystem has been spared impact by man-made pollution.
“This is a very worrying find. Isolating plastic fibres from inside animals from nearly 11 kilometres deep (7miles) just shows the extent of the problem. “Also, the number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometre distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global.”