THE MARIANA TRENCH—THE deepest point in the ocean—extends nearly 36,000 feet (10,989 meters) down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, but it has not escaped from the global onslaught of plastic pollution. A recent study revealed that a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores, is now the deepest known piece of plastic trash. The discovery is one of 3,000 pieces of man-made debris dating back 30 years.
Scientists found it by looking through the Deep-Sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from 5,010 dives from numerous international teams working around the world over the past 30 years and using deep-sea remote vehicles to help study the ocean beds to discover what lies beneath.
Of the classifiable debris logged in the database, plastic was the most prevalent, and plastic bags in particular made up the greatest source of plastic trash. Other debris came from material like rubber, metal, wood, and cloth, and some is yet to be classified.
Most of the plastic—a whopping 89 percent—was the type of plastic that is used once and then thrown away, like a plastic water bottle or disposable utensil.
While the Mariana Trench may seem like a dark, lifeless pit, it hosts more life than you might think. NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer vessel searched the region’s depths in 2016 and found diverse life-forms, including species like coral, jellyfish, and octopus. The recent study also found that 17 percent of the images of plastic logged in the database showed interactions of some kind with marine life, like animals becoming entangled in the debris.
The new study is just one among many showing just how prevalent plastic pollution has become worldwide. Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take hundreds of years or more to break down once in the wild.
Last February, a separate study showed that the Mariana Trench has higher levels of overall pollution in certain regions than some of the most polluted rivers in China. The study’s authors theorized that the chemical pollutants in the trench may have come in part from the breakdown of plastic in the water column. . . .
By Sarah Gibbons, National Geographic
May 11, 2018
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Additional information from: The Telegraph
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