Our Plastic Problem Runs Deep

Plastic has now been found inside organisms living at the bottom of the ocean

August 5, 2019

2:14 pm

Even organisms living in the deepest parts of the ocean have been infected by plastic according to a study published this week. Researchers have detected the ingestion of plastic and synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyethylene, and polyvinyl alcohol in the guts of amphipod populations.

Locations of the 6 trenches around the Pacific rim where amphipods were sampled for microplastic ingestion. The sites include the Japan, Izu-Bonin and Mariana trenches in the northwest Pacific; the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the southwest Pacific & the Peru-Chile Trench in the southeast Pacific. Jamieson 2019 et al.

Samples were taken from six deep ocean trenches from around the Pacific Rim at depths up to 35,728 ft, which if you were wondering, is as deep as the Himalayas are tall.

In total, more than 72% of specimens examined in the study contained at least one microparticle of microplastic. In the leastwise polluted site sampled, researchers found that 50% of the specimens had ingested at least one piece of plastic. In the Marianas Trench, at around 6.8 miles below the surface, at the deepest place in the world, 100% of of the amphipods were found with plastic in their gut. Although plastic has previously been found at these depths, this is the first study showing that abyssal animals are actually eating plastic.

“The worst example I saw was a purple fiber, a few millimeters long, tied in a figure-of-eight in an animal no longer than a centimeter. Imagine if you swallowed a meter of polypropylene rope.”

-Alan Jamieson, Marine Ecologist at Newcastle University

The implications of this study proves that plastic really has spread to everywhere on Earth, from the top of Mt Everest, to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and even to the most remote islands. Our plastic infection has reached species including whales, birds, fish, and many more.

Image: Flickr: Alan Levine

Society’s problem runs deep.

The study estimates that 322 million tons of plastic are produced per year, with more than 5 trillion pieces (weighing 250,000 tons total) floating on the ocean’s surface. In fact, in 2010 alone around 10 million tons found its way into the ocean. Sadly that number is set to increase by 2025.

This study, along with many others, adds to the surmounting evidence of plastic's lasting negative impact on Earth. We should not wait any longer. We need to change our policies and behavior and fast. Before our plastic disease kills Earth.