It should come as no surprise now that plastic is being found in every corner of the Earth. From the North Pole to the deepest parts of the planet. It doesn’t make it any less sickening though, and the revelation that plastic has been found in the stomachs of sea creatures in all six of the ocean's known deepest areas is pretty nauseating.
Exploring the Mariana, Japan, Izu-Bonin, Peru-Chile, New Hebrides, and Kermadec trenches, spanning the Pacific ocean, researchers from Newcastle University in the UK discovered plastics ingested by deep-sea creatures in every single one.
Led by Dr Alan Jamieson, the team studied 90 crustaceans from the trenches that are 7-10 kilometers (4.3-6.2 miles) deep and found fragments of synthetic fibers including Rayon and Lyocell, which are microfibers used in the production of Nylon, polyamide, polyethylene, and PVC.
“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,” explained Dr 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.”
Using deep-sea “landers” developed by Jamieson, the team explored the deepest parts of the ocean, including the Challenger Deep, the deepest known place on Earth at 10,916 meters (35,814 feet).
They found plastic consumption varied between trenches – from 50 percent in the South Pacific's New Hebrides trench to 100 percent in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific – but was present in all.
“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,” Dr Jamieson explained.
That legacy, it appears, is that there is no marine ecosystem left on Earth that hasn’t been contaminated by anthropogenic debris.
There are an estimated 300 million tonnes (330 million US tons) of plastic in the ocean, much of it floating on the surface, so easily observed. From the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the more recently-discovered garbage patch the size of Mexico off the coast of Chile, to the recent shocking photos revealing a sea of plastic in the Caribbean.
The extent to which animals are suffering from plastic pollution is also quite clear, from whales being euthanized after swallowing plastic bags to fish and turtles growing around plastic they are trapped in.
Sadly, the legacy of this study shows that places and creatures barely explored and studied by humanity are being affected by plastic pollution, and by the time we get to them it may be too late.