No ocean habitat, no matter how remote, can escape the global plastic waste problem. That’s according to a recent study, which concluded that plastic pollution is penetrating even the world’s deepest ocean trenches.
Japanese researchers teamed up with scientists from United Nations Environment’s World Conservation Monitoring Center to conduct the study, scouring the Deep-Sea Debris Database in search of signs of humanity’s environmental footprint.
What they found after searching through the archive, which included deep-sea photos and videos taken on more than 5,000 dives over the course of 30 years, was staggering.
According to the study, plastic waste is “ubiquitous” even at the greatest of depths. Researchers identified 3,425 man-made items of debris, about one-third of which was plastic, in the deep-sea photos. At more than 20,000 feet under the sea, about half of debris was plastic. Researchers even found a plastic bag tucked 36,000 feet down into the Mariana Trench, the ocean's deepest known area.
Approximately 89% of the plastic debris the team identified was single-use items like straws and to-go containers. Deep-sea organisms were attached to 17% of the plastic debris found, and some creatures were spotted entangled in the items.
“The ubiquitous distribution of single-use plastic, even to the greatest depths of the ocean, reveal a clear link between daily human activities and the remotest of environments,” UN Environment officials wrote in a statement.
“Once in the deep-sea, plastic can persist for thousands of years. Deep-sea ecosystems are highly endemic and have a very slow growth rate, so the potential threats from plastic pollution are concerning.”
UN Environment pointed to reducing global plastic production as “the only solution to the problem of deep-sea plastic pollution.”
According to the Huffington Post, around 19 billion pounds of plastic garbage enters the world’s oceans every year. China and island nations in southeastern Asia dump the most plastic, but the United States, Brazil, and India are also major contributors, according to a 2015 report in Science magazine.
In an effort to combat plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, countries like Kenya, Vanuatu, Taiwan, Morocco, Rwanda, and France have imposed various bans on single-use plastics, while countless more cities and communities across the globe have committed to eliminating plastic waste by other means.
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