Whelp, this is bad news.
To determine the extent of our species’ unsustainable habits, a team of researchers from Newcastle University spent months exploring the Kariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides, and Kermadec trenches. What they found is disturbing…
For the first time ever, plastic has been found in the stomachs of sea creatures in all six of the ocean’s known deepest areas. The research was led by Dr. Alan Jamieson.
In total, the team studied 90 crustaceans from the trenches. As IFLScience reports, the trenches are 7-10 kilometers, or 4.3-6.2 miles, deep. Fragments of synthetic fibers — including Rayon and Lycocell (microfibers which are used in the production of Nylon, polyamide, and polyethylene, and PVC) — were found inside the creatures’ stomachs.
“We published a study earlier this year showing high levels of organic pollutants in the very deepest seas and lots of people asked us about the presence of plastics, so we decided to have a look,” said Jamieson. “The results were both immediate and startling… there were instances where the fibres could actually be seen in the stomach contents as they were being removed.”
The team used deep-sea “landers,” which were developed by Jamieson. This tool enabled the scientists to explore the deepest parts of the ocean — including the Challenger Deep, which is the deepest known place on Earth at 10,916 meters (over 35,000 feet) below sea level.
Though the types of plastics they found in trenches varied, they still found plastic fibers in every location they searched. “We felt we had to do this study given the unique access we have to some of the most remote places on earth, and we are using these samples to make a poignant statement about mankind’s legacy,” said Jamieson.
With a heavy heart, the researchers concluded that there is no marine ecosystem left on the planet that hasn’t been contaminated by plastic pollution.
This is concerning, but not surprising to those who have been paying attention. By 2050, 99 percent of all birds on Earth will have plastic in their guts. Considering 80 percent of all waste ends up in the ocean, what did we expect?
At present, there are an estimated 300 million tonnes (330 million US tons) of plastic in the oceans. Most floats on the surface, converging in what is known as “garbage patches.” The largest — dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — is twice the size of Texas. And, a more recently-discovered garbage patch off the coast of Chile is roughly the size of Mexico.
When plastic wades in the ocean, it slowly breaks down into microparticles which are easily swallowed by wildlife — such as fish and turtles. The trash might choke or kill the animals, or it could continue slowly breaking down, releasing contaminants into the ecosystem.
What is clear is that change is needed. The Earth cannot withstand modern methods of living, which is why each of us needs to “be the change” we wish to see and do whatever it takes to lessen our individual impact on the environment.