Our plastic problem sinks to greater depths than we could have imagined, and I mean that in a literal sense. Observations of deep ocean human-made junk found over the past 30 years has helped scientists expose the true extent of the problem.
At the end of last year the BBC successfully managed to take the issue of plastic pollution and propel it into the spotlight with their hit documentary series Blue Planet II. Thanks to their efforts, we now have a better understanding of just how widespread the problem is. Even in the remotest parts of the planet it is not unusual to witness vast amounts of trash thrown up out of the sea to deface the image of beautiful white sands and coastal palm forests.
To get an idea of the true scale of the problem, researchers have gathered together records of human-made rubbish found in the deep ocean from the past 3 decades. In total 3,500 items of man-made debris was recorded. This included objects such as plastic bags, fishing gear, rubber gloves, plastic bottles, shoes, sweet packets, tyres and metal cans.
Rubbish was found to be prevalent even below depths of 6000m and 92% of these items were single-use products. The deepest recorded item was a plastic bag found in the Mariana Trench at an astounding depth of 10,898m.
The Mariana Trench is the deepest known part of the ocean. So deep in fact that if Mount Everest were to be placed at the bottom it would fit comfortably with more than a mile left before hitting the surface of the ocean. Because of its extreme depth very little is known about what life exists in this dark abyss.
It’s safe to say that we have a widespread problem of human-made trash, particularly when it comes to plastics. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enters our oceans every year causing severe damage to important habitats and entering the digestive systems of fish and seabirds.
These discoveries of man-made debris in the remotest parts of our ocean reinforces our desperate need to reduce our production of single use products and stop them spreading into the wider environment. There is truly no place on earth where human made rubbish is not an issue and it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to clean up our act in order to protect these fragile ecosystems.
These records of ocean trash, known collectively as the Deep-sea Debris Database, were originally published in March 2017 by The Global Oceanographic Data Center (GODAC) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).
Featured photograph credit: NOAA Photo Library
Photo credit: Mariana Trench Location; I, Kmusser; CC BY 2.5